As if they weren’t busy enough trying to win voters in the north country for Nov. 6, two candidates for Congress have taken steps to influence elections in which their names won’t appear on the ballot.
Since 2001, Republican Matthew A. Doheny, a financial portfolio manager of Watertown, has donated $122,887 to candidates, parties and political causes from St. Lawrence County to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
And late last year, Democratic Rep. William L. Owens, who hasn’t donated personal funds since a 2009 gift to the campaign of now-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, founded a political action committee that will help like-minded congressional candidates and county party organizations in upstate New York.
The candidates, both independently wealthy, say their efforts are aimed at helping friends and fellow candidates in need of campaign cash, the lifeblood of electoral politics.
“I know how hard it is to raise money in some of these local races,” Mr. Doheny said. “You get to know these people. They become friends, and I want to support them. I agree with them, and I want to have them be successful.”
Mr. Doheny’s donations have gone mostly to Republican candidates and Republican Party coffers, but also to the Conservative and Independence parties’ causes. He won the endorsement of every Republican Party committee in the congressional district in advance of a June 26 primary election. He also has won the blessing of Conservative and Independence parties’ leaders to run on their lines.
He’s also donated some money — though not much — outside of the state. For example, in January 2010, he donated $2,400 toward U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s surprise victory in Massachusetts.
“The idea that Scott Brown has that seat as opposed to Ted Kennedy is amazing,” Mr. Doheny said.
The array of donations has not come without political pitfalls. Asked about his $2,400 donation to then-Assemblywoman Dierdre K. Scozzafava’s congressional campaign in 2009, Mr. Doheny seemed reluctant to broach the topic again, jokingly telling a reporter to run the same quote he gave the Times when he was asked about the donation in 2010.
In a 2010 story, Mr. Doheny said: “Obviously, it wasn’t like I was out campaigning for her or anything; that’s pretty much all I did. Do I absolutely loathe and detest what Dede’s done since then? Number one, I hate quitters. Number two, I hate people who don’t live up to their word and switch teams. And number three, if you’re a Republican, act like it and don’t endorse Andy Cuomo. Give me a break.”
Ms. Scozzafava’s name has become a bugaboo in Republican circles after she dropped out of the 2009 congressional race and endorsed Mr. Owens. She was facing a precipitous drop in the polls amid scathing, national attacks from allies of the Conservative Party candidate, Douglas L. Hoffman.
This year, it’s not any particular donation that’s become an issue, but the number of donations. Kellie A. Greene, a Republican of Sackets Harbor who will face Mr. Doheny in the primary, has accused him of trying to “buy” the election.
It’s an accusation that Mr. Doheny firmly denounces.
“Oh, stop. Come on,” he said. “Voters vote. We’ve had tough elections both in the primary and the general. When you’re talking about these discreet donations, like I said, like-minded people need support. And generally speaking, you’re supporting friends. I absolutely reject that whole concept.”
He has also made large donations to the Conservative and Independence parties. Party leaders, not voters in a primary, chose Mr. Doheny as their candidate for 2012.
“People who have the same view of government and who share my views generally, while not agreeing on everything — I’ve donated to Conservative causes for many years, and the Independence Party, likewise,” he said.
Mr. Doheny’s first-ever donation, according to the state Board of Elections, was a $250 check to the state Conservative Campaign Committee. He first donated to the Independence Party in April 2010, after the first time he threw his hat into the congressional election ring.
In the year and a half since his November 2010 loss, he’s given $58,099, according to the state Board of Elections and the Federal Election Commission.
Mr. Owens’s personal donations have fallen by the wayside since he won his first election in November 2009. But he has found an avenue outside of personal donations to influence outside elections: a PAC. He created the Adirondack Jobs PAC in December.
“I’d be looking at candidates that focus on a few things I believe in: economic growth and job creation, debt and deficit reduction, compromise and the willingness to work across party lines to get things done,” Mr. Owens said. “We need more people in Congress who will work across the aisle to accomplish these goals.”
So far, the PAC hasn’t been very active. It’s donated $2,500 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the political arm of the House Democrats. In December, it took in a $5,000 donation from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers PAC, and $500 from Mr. Owens’s congressional campaign fund. In March, it received a $2,500 donation from Tonio Burgos, the chairman of a lobbying firm; $2,500 from Robert G. Wilmers, the chairman of M&T Bank, and $2,500 from the Honeywell International PAC.
“This will not be a large PAC,” Mr. Owens said. “We will probably raise and spend a few thousand dollars a year.”
By federal law, the PAC can’t help Mr. Owens in his own race.
Mr. Owens said he doesn’t envision spending personal money on his own campaign again.
While his personal donations have slowed, the attention that’s been paid to a few old ones has recently grown quite a bit. In 1998, Mr. Owens donated $750 to then-U.S. Sen. Alfonse M. D’Amato’s campaign.
In late 2011, Mr. Owens took a trip to Taiwan that was extensively arranged by lobbyists for Mr. D’Amato’s firm, Park Strategies, according to an investigation by online news outlet ProPublica. That is a violation of House ethics rules meant to curb influence peddling via fancy junkets. Mr. Owens said he believes no ethics rules were broken, but said he would pay the $22,132 the four-day trip cost to a private university in Taiwan.
While Mr. D’Amato and Mr. Owens graduated from the same high school on Long Island, the two didn’t meet until years later, when Mr. Owens was a lawyer in private practice in Plattsburgh. He was a law partner of former Republican state Sen. Ronald B. Stafford, who died in 2005.
Mr. Owens, a political independent at the time, donated $750 to Mr. D’Amato’s unsuccessful Senate re-election campaign against then-Rep. Charles Schumer, a Brooklyn Democrat, in 1998.
When Mr. Owens was first elected to Congress in 2009, Mr. D’Amato approached him in their new roles: Mr. Owens, now a Democratic member of Congress; Mr. D’Amato, now the founder of a high-powered lobbying operation.
Online poker became the first subject of the lobbying, Mr. Owens said.
But Mr. Owens said the trip isn’t an indication that he’s too tight with Mr. D’Amato’s firm.
“I think that our relationship with Park Strategies is the same that it is with any number of lobbying entities in Washington,” he has said. “We interact with them on a wide variety of issues.”
The two spoke via telephone about the trip to Taiwan, among a variety of other issues, Mr. Owens said. But the trip’s planning never came up and he was never involved in it, he said.
A representative for Ms. Greene, an Oswego native who moved to Sackets Harbor after eight years living in Arizona, could not be reached. Campaign finance records from Arizona showed that in July 2011, she donated $50 to Steve Smith, a Republican state legislator there on whose campaign she worked.