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Collins fundraising plummets after insider trading indictment

WASHINGTON – Rep. Chris Collins' legal troubles nearly stopped his campaign fundraising in its tracks, but he still had more than $1 million on hand as of Sept. 30 to wage an aggressive campaign against Democrat Nathan McMurray.

That's the bottom line of the third-quarter campaign finance report the Collins campaign filed late Sunday. McMurray had not yet filed his report as of late Monday, but his campaign said last week that he raised more than $475,000.

Collins raised $32,755.74, and only $2,955 of that came after his Aug. 8 indictment on several federal felony charges in connection with an alleged insider stock trading scheme.

Still, Collins had enough money to pay for $233,369 in campaign advertising, $40,147.33 in legal fees and a $7,895 charter flight.

Collins' television commercials – bashing McMurray for everything from his work in Asia to his support of single-payer health care – have flooded the airwaves since shortly after the Clarence Republican re-entered the congressional race on Sept. 17.

Spokespeople for the Collins legal team and campaign insisted the $40,147.33 he paid in campaign funds to the BakerHostetler law firm in the third quarter was not for his criminal defense. That's on top of $253,938 in legal fees Collins paid from his campaign fund in the previous 12 months.

"Congressman Collins has always personally paid for the costs of his legal defense to the criminal investigation and action, and will continue to do so," said Trevor Francis, spokesman for the legal team. "Separately, Baker Hostetler provides other legal advice that is properly paid for by the campaign."

Republican Chris Collins pictured Tuesday night at the Planing Mill in Buffalo, left, and Democrat Nate McMurray pictured Tuesday night at his campaign headquarters in Hamburg. (Derek Gee and Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

As for that charter flight, Collins took it from New York to Buffalo on Aug. 8 to meet with the media after his indictment, said Collins campaign spokeswoman Natalie Baldassarre.

Since the start of 2017, Collins has raised $1.1 million for his campaign, with more than $700,000 of it coming from political action committees supporting, in many cases, business interests. For example, he took $2,062.50 from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America PAC before his indictment – a point McMurray was happy to highlight.

“Who is Chris Collins beholden to?" McMurray asked. "Not the voters; he won’t even meet with them. But his buddies in the pharmaceutical industry? Yes, and he’ll end up in jail because of it."

Collins is charged with fraud, conspiracy and lying to an FBI agent. Prosecutors say he spread inside information about an Australian biotech company to his son, who then dumped his shares in the company and told others to do the same. Collins and his son, Cameron, say they are innocent, as does Stephen Zarsky, Cameron Collins' prospective father-in-law.

McMurray has refused to take contributions from corporate political action committees and has instead relied on money from individual donors and organized labor, a point Baldassarre highlighted.

"He lies and pretends to be a man of the people, but behind the scenes, he's begged for support from Nancy Pelosi's dark money groups and is proud to be endorsed by progressive labor unions tied to Gov. Cuomo," she said.

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