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Buffalo mayoral campaign becoming $1 million primary battle

The Buffalo mayor's primary race is about to cross the $1 million mark.

Incumbent Mayor Byron W. Brown has spent $634,644 so far this election season, while challenger Mark J.F. Schroeder has spent $327,119 and challenger Betty Jean Grant has spent $11,232, according to campaign reports filed with the state Board of Elections. Those reports detail spending throughout the primary season, from July 2016 through Aug. 28 – 15 days before the Sept. 12 election.

The reports show total primary spending so far at $972,995.

Given that the final weeks leading up to Election Day are often among the most expensive – with mailings as well as radio and television ads – the $1 million mark will soon be broken, if it hasn't already.

While Brown is the biggest spender to date, the reports show the mayor's campaign isn't spending money at the pace it was four years ago -- when the Brown for Buffalo campaign had spent $887,151 by this point in the primary race.

The reports also show that while Grant, an Erie County legislator, struggles to raise money, Schroeder, the city comptroller, is the best-funded Democratic primary challenger and biggest spender Brown has faced as mayor.

The $327,119 Schroeder spent so far compares with $229,902 Bernie Tolbert spent four years ago in a Democratic primary against Brown. Four years before that, Democrat Michael Kearns spent $207,473 in his 2009 primary run against Brown, campaign records show.

At raucous debate, Buffalo mayoral candidates battle over range of issues

This won't be the first Buffalo mayoral primary to cross the $1 million mark.

Total spending in the 2013 primary was $1.45 million, with Brown's campaign spending $1.2 million of that. Some of Brown's later primary spending that year, however, was geared toward a general election challenge from Republican candidate Sergio Rodriguez, who spent a total of $29,276 throughout the campaign season.

Brown is not facing a GOP challenger this year, but is facing minor-party candidates on the November ballot.

While campaign finance reports for the 2017 primary began last July, the most recent reports, filed in the past few days, cover a period from Aug. 8 to Aug. 28.

During that period, Brown's campaign raised another $83,863 - bringing his primary season fundraising to $751,494.

Schroeder raised $94,708 during the August filing period, bringing his total fundraising to $323,370.

Grant raised $4,293, bringing her total to $17,994.

All of that fundraising enables candidates to spend money.

Brown's campaign reported spending $178,353 from Aug. 8 to Aug. 28 while Schroeder's reported spending $111,518 and Grant's  reported spending $5,134.

Grant's biggest expense during the three-week period was almost $4,000 on campaign literature.

Brown and Schroeder, meanwhile, were spending big money on television ads.

Schroeder's campaign reported paying a Washington-D.C.-based firm, The Balduzzi Group, $100,000 in August to buy television advertising.

Brown's campaign reported paying Joe Slade White Co., a Hamburg firm, $83,559 in August for media production.

Grant acknowledges raising money has been a struggle, in part, she said, because Brown enjoys the power of incumbency. He's able to get money from city employees who depend on him for a job, and contractors who benefited during his administration, she said.

In contrast, Grant said, she represents people who don't have a lot of money.

"I am having difficulty raising money because the people who believe in me are the poor, the disenfranchised, those left behind," she said.

Brown has said his fundraising reflects the positive attitude residents feel about Buffalo's progress under his leadership.

"I continue to work hard every day to build on our progress and to stand for all Buffalo residents," Brown has said.

Schroeder's campaign has also pointed to the fundraising advantage Brown gets from incumbency. But the comptroller also said he's pleased with his own fundraising.

"We are reaching voters every way we can, including television, radio, print, direct mail, social media and door-to-door," Schroeder said.

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