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For state Sen. Ranzenhofer, running for Collins' seat could be costly

ALBANY – There are three Republican state senators who are angling to be chosen as a replacement GOP candidate for indicted Rep. Chris Collins in the state’s 27th Congressional District.

They would get a nice bump in their government salaries if they went from representing part of Western New York in Albany to Washington.

But one of them, state Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer, an Amherst Republican, could lose as much as $150,000 a year in outside income by having to abide by a House of Representatives ethics rule that forbids sitting members of Congress from practicing law.

Ranzenhofer, 63, has had a thriving law practice based in Akron – Friedman & Ranzenhofer – that brought the senator between $100,000 and $150,000 in 2017, according to his state ethics filing submitted in May.

Ranzenhofer, according to his ethics filing and the firm’s website, specializes in personal injury cases, as well as family and marital law matters.

The Republican is one of three state senators – along with Robert Ortt of North Tonawanda and Chris Jacobs of Buffalo – who were interviewed along with others this week by eight Western New York county GOP leaders as possible candidates to replace Collins. The Republican congressman was recently indicted on federal insider trading charges.

Ranzenhofer has been seen by some political insiders as among the top possible contenders, though there is pressure being exerted by some Senate Republican officials to have local GOP leaders avoid picking any of the senators for the Collins seat. Senate Republicans are already in a pitched battle with Democrats in the fall elections in what looks to be their increasingly difficult attempt to retain control of the 63-member chamber at the Capitol.

Unlike at the state Capitol, members of Congress have outside income limitations, and others in the Collins GOP mix could face cutbacks in what they now make on the outside.

Among the strictest of those House rules is the barring of members from practicing law, which would directly affect Ranzenhofer, who has publicly expressed no worries that Republicans would keep his state Senate seat if he ran for Congress.

State ethics laws permit state officials to give a dollar range when revealing on annual, required disclosure forms the income, investment holdings and debt earned or held by the official and their spouse.

In Ranzenhofer’s latest filing covering the 2017 calendar year, he reported category “H” as earnings from his law firm. That translates to between $100,000 and $150,000. Further down on the disclosure form is a list of clients – with their names attached – that he represented in 2017. He also lists his income as including from $75,000 to $100,000 received from his appointment as a court receiver by a State Supreme Court judge.

All told, when those individual income sources are broken down, it appears the senator made at least $160,000 in 2017 from legal-related work. Additionally, he listed up to $50,000 in income from “rent” associated with a property he at least partly owns in Akron.

Ranzenhofer would get a hike in government pay if he went to Congress. His base legislative pay as a state senator is now $79,500 – a level that has not changed for state lawmakers since 1999. He also gets another $15,000 annually as chairman of a Senate committee with oversight of state authorities and commissions.

Members of Congress this year get a base salary of $174,000.

Ranzenhofer, and his spokesman, did not return calls for comment over the past couple of days.

The senator, a former member of the Erie County Legislature, is serving in his fifth, two-year term and represents a district drawn in 2012 that stretches from the Buffalo suburbs into Rochester.

Ranzenhofer is among the wealthier members of the Legislature. His disclosure form for 2017 shows a total value of the securities he holds – mostly in various mutual funds – between $1.3 million and $2.2 million. He also has at least $1 million in estimated value for three retirement or deferred compensation plans.

GOP plans are still evolving as to what to do about the Collins ballot situation. Democrats have threatened litigation if the GOP tries to replace Collins with another candidate at this point in the election cycle, which could toss the matter into the state courts.

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