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Candidates Reap Out-Of-District Funds

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Of every dollar that north country congressional candidates raise to print bumper stickers, mail leaflets and air television ads, only about a dime comes from within the district they’re seeking to represent.

The rest of the money that fuels the campaigns of Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, and Republican Matthew A. Doheny comes from places far away in miles and in character: New York City. California. Washington, D.C. Puerto Rico.

The numbers paint a clear picture: It’s hard to bankroll an increasingly expensive campaign — everything from foam footballs to television commercials in three media markets — without raising money outside of the 21st Congressional District. Of the roughly $1.5 million that the candidates have raised from individuals or political organizations, ten percent — or $146,088 — is raised locally, according to a Times review of campaign finance documents.

“Given a choice between spending five grand on a four-wheeler and five grand on a congressional campaign, I think we know where a north country person comes down,” said Watertown Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham, who is a supporter of Mr. Doheny and donated $250 to his campaign in March. “I think it’s just part of the culture.”

The Times’ review took into account donations after October 2011, when both candidates were actively fundraising, until the end of June, the latest data available. The review was as generous as possible to the candidates: Donations from the former congressional district — from Oneida County, for example — were counted as local, as were donations from the new congressional district — from Warren County, for example. Every 10 years, the shape of the congressional district changes shape to take into account shifts in population.

Mr. Doheny has raised $48,933 from residents of the north country’s congressional district. Individual donors who live in the congressional district comprised 9 percent of his total individual donors that were itemized in Federal Elections Commission reports; when political action committees are taken into account, the number dips to 7 percent of the money he’s raised — just under 710,000.

That compares to $368,150 from people who live in the New York City region, or 67 percent of his individual donors. He raised $18,500 from residents of New York who lived in neither the north country nor the New York City area. He raised $110,000 from out of state. The figures include only donations of more than $200. Smaller donors don’t have to list their names or home towns.

Mr. Doheny, an Alexandria Bay native who moved back to Watertown after a successful career working at Wall Street financial institutions, relied on a network of friends from the business worldand from college to raise his cash.

Mr. Owens had relatively more luck with local donors. He raised $97,155 among people who live in the district, or 39 percent of his individual donors, according to FEC reports of itemized donations. He raised a total of more than $760,000 from individuals and political organizations.

That compares to $68,200 in donations from residents of the New York City region, $46,475 in donations from New Yorkers who don’t live in the north country or New York City, and $40,375 from outside of the state — often Washington, D.C., and California.

When that figure includes PACs, none of which have north country ZIP codes, Mr. Owens took in 13 percent of his fundraising from individuals who live in the district. The majority of Mr. Owens’s money came from PACs.

Each campaign has hosted fundraisers in the congressional district. Mr. Doheny, for example, brought House Speaker John Boehner to Lake George to help him raise funds. Mr. Owens, meanwhile, held an event in Plattsburgh earlier this year geared toward doctors. But neither campaign was able to generate enough local cash to put on a serious race.

Live From New York

Why would somebody who doesn’t live in a particular congressional district take an interest in the election there? The campaigns and some of the donors offered a few responses, including personal relationships and ideological similarity. Practical political realities also helped spur some donations.

The north country is host to a contested race. New York City? Not so much.

Donations to the the representative in his Manhattan district wouldn’t make a difference, said Victor A. Kovner, a lawyer who specializes in free speech cases.

“The Democratic incumbent gets elected with 85 percent of the vote,” Mr. Kovner said. “If I could only participate in that district, I’d have no voice.”

Mr. Kovner, who donates to other Democratic candidates, said he’s impressed with Mr. Owens’s work in bringing Canadian companies to the United States.

“I find him an intelligent, articulate, decent person who I think will be a successful member of the New York delegation to Congress,” said Mr. Kovner, who gave Mr. Owens $500 in March.

Paul M. Cantwell, a Malone attorney, contributed $500 to Mr. Owens. He’s known Mr. Owens for years in various economic development circles. He’s not surprised that only one dime of every dollar that flows to congressional campaigns is local.

“I’m sure the political donations probably aren’t high in a lot of people’s list of things,” Mr. Cantwell said.

He said it was important for relatively small donors like himself to get involved. When taking into account only donations of more than $200, the average Owens donation was about the same amount as Mr. Cantwell’s — about $550. The average Doheny donaton, meanwhile, was $1,576. Single donations are limited to $2,500.

An Ohio Player

On paper — or at least on a map — Andrew Bohutinsky doesn’t seem like the type of person who would be interested in north country politics.

He lives in New Albany, Ohio, and works for Desco Capital, an Ohio investment firm. And he and his wife gave Mr. Doheny a total of $10,000. So what’s his interest in a congressional race about 500 miles away?

He happens to have gone to Cornell Law School with Mr. Doheny and has remained friends ever since. He made the trek from New Albany to Alexandria Bay in June to attend Mr. Doheny’s wedding. He also happens to agree with Mr. Doheny politically, he said.

Even in law school, Mr. Bohutinsky recalls, Mr. Doheny had an appetite for politics and a dream to serve in the U.S. Congress.

“This has been his chosen career path,” Mr. Bohutinsky said. “He took a detour to New York City, but long-term, this is always what he wanted to do.”

When Mr. Doheny needed help kicking off his fundraising, he turned to Harry J. Wilson, who has a similar biography. Both lost elections in 2010 — Mr. Wilson for state comptroller, Mr. Doheny to Mr. Owens. And like Mr. Doheny, Mr. Wilson has an extensive history in finance. The two sit on the board of YRC Worldwide, the holding company for trucking outfits like New Penn in the Northeast.

The Doheny campaign put together a 50-person finance team, which Mr. Wilson chairs. The campaign declined to name names, but many of the members of the team were Mr. Doheny’s former business associates, which means they worked in finance.

“Matt Doheny and I come from similar business backgrounds, having both helped turn around troubled companies and put people back to work,” Mr. Wilson said in December. “Matt will bring a business expertise to Congress that’s sorely needed – and I look forward to helping him get elected next November.”

Mr. Graham, the Watertown mayor, sticks to basic political realities when discussing why he gave to Mr. Doheny: because freedom isn’t free, and neither is a representative democracy.

“When you run for office, you know that campaigns don’t just happen. You have to be supportive of your candidate,” Mr. Graham said. “So you give what you can.”

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