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Fear of a dark horse 

"George Pataki is desperate to keep Tom Golisano off the ballot," reads a recent ad paid for by the Tom Golisano for Governor Committee. Despite Pataki's commanding lead in the polls so far, that assertion is not as absurd as it sounds.

                  According to a recent Quinnipiac University Polling Institute poll, Pataki has a 2-1 lead over Democratic challengers Andrew Cuomo and Carl McCall, and Golisano seems to be on track to finish a distant third, again. The Quinnipiac poll suggests he'd get between 6 and 7 percent against Pataki or either of the Democrats this year.

                  So why would the popular governor so much as lift a finger to keep such a dark horse out of the race?

                  In short: money and politics, particularly the political peculiarities of New York's multi-party ballot system.

                  First, a crass exercise in political mathematics: In his 1994 gubernatorial bid, Golisano spent $6.5 million and garnered 4 percent of the vote. In his 1998 attempt, the Rochester-area billionaire founder and CEO of Paychex, Inc. doubled his investment and got twice the return. (He spent $13 million and got 8 percent of the vote.)

                  This suggests that if Golisano spends $26 million this year, his percent of the vote could reach double digits. Such a showing wouldn't send Golisano to Albany, but if he siphons off a significant number of conservative votes for Pataki, he could deny the governor a return trip.

                  However, Golisano isn't planning to double his campaign spending this year. He intends to nearly sextuple it. Golisano has already dedicated more than $50 million of his personal fortune to this year's run, and his campaign says he's prepared to spend as much as $75 million before election day.

                  By contrast, Pataki has raised $23.3 million. The war chests are smaller for Cuomo ($6.4 million) and McCall ($5.6 million). It's also worth noting that Golisano doesn't have to glad-hand wealthy donors at stodgy, $1000-a-plate fundraising dinners. He simply writes a check to his own campaign and takes himself out to dinner.

                  The Pataki campaign is suspect of the checks Golisano wrote to his two lieutenant governor candidates, Daniel Mahony and William Neild. Golisano's campaign committee loaned Mahony, a financial advisor from Manhattan, $298,471; Neild, a Rochester lawyer, accepted a check from the Golisano camp for $239,217.

                  The Pataki camp publicly questioned the legality of those loans, but upon further scrutiny, has decided not to press the issue --- yet. According to the state Board of Elections, such loans do not violate campaign finance law. But the loans must be repaid by the day after either the primary or the general election, depending which vote the money was intended to help the candidate win.

                  In this case, campaign finance filings suggest that Mahony and Neild spent the money in their attempts to force primaries for lieutenant governor on the Conservative and Independence party lines, respectively. The primary is September 10.

                  The Pataki camp is challenging the legality of the petitioning effort Golisano's loans helped pay for. A lawsuit filed on behalf of current Lt. Governor Mary Donohue and another plaintiff charges that workers for Nevada-based National Voter Outreach were illegally granted authority to collect signatures for Golisano, Mahony, and Neild. (Campaign finance filings show that the Golisano committee's loans to Mahony and Neild paid for the services of National Voter Outreach and a Virginia-based consulting firm --- to the penny).

                  If a state Supreme Court judge rules that the petitioners --- who appear to be living in Rochester on a temporary basis --- should not have been certified by the City Clerk's office to collect signatures as Commissioners of Deeds, the petitions Golisano and his prospective running mates submitted could be ruled invalid.

                  According to Pataki's people, the lawsuit isn't about politics --- it's about law and order. "We believe anybody, including a billionaire, should obey the law," says Pataki campaign spokeswoman Mollie Fullington. "That's simply what this is about."

                  "We characterize it as a 'slap suit,' a strategic lawsuit against political participation," says Erick Mullen of Golisano's campaign team. "What's he afraid of?" Mullen asks.

                  It's easy to speculate what spooks the Pataki camp. The way New York's electoral system works, candidates can run on several party lines in an election. Pataki has run and won on both the Republican and Conservative Party lines in 1994 and 1998. This year, his name will also appear on the party line Golisano was instrumental in creating: the Independence Party.

                  Votes a candidate receives on different lines can be added together. In 1994, Pataki's votes from the Conservative line provided his margin of victory over incumbent Democrat Mario Cuomo (current candidate Andrew Cuomo's father). But votes from different lines can only be combined if the governor-lieutenant governor ticket is the same. Thus, if Mahony defeats Donohue in a Conservative Party primary for lieutenant governor and Pataki fends off Golisano's primary challenge, the Conservative Party line on the November ballot would be Pataki-Mahony, and any votes for that ticket would not be added to Pataki and Donohue's total.

                  That prospect certainly scares Conservative Party officials, who warn of "mercenaries" collecting petition signatures for Golisano and Mahony. Party chairman Michael Long wrote a letter to Golisano in mid-June expressing concern over the legality of his committee's loans to Mahony. "The real question is: How is Mr. Mahony, a man who doesn't necessarily have a lot of wealth, going to pay back that $300,000?" Long said in a recent interview. "I believe Mr. Golisano is skirting the law."

                  Long also believes Golisano chose Mahony to run on the Conservative Party line in an underhanded effort to confuse conservative voters. The candidate's name is similar to that of Conservative Party co-founder Daniel Mahoney. Mahoney died several years ago, but Long says, "I believe those people who've been registered for a long time in the Conservative Party would clearly make the observation he's a relative of the founder."

                  Long charges that petitioners have told signers Mahony is related to Mahoney. In addition, some petitions filed with the Board of Elections erroneously list the candidate's last name as "Mahoney." Mahony did not return a call seeking comment.

                  (The spelling of Mahony's name has also caused controversy in another political matter. The state Board of Elections and the Manhattan district attorney's office are investigating whether Mahony voted twice in several recent elections. The New York Post recently reported that the candidate is registered to vote at polling places for both his current and former addresses. The registration for his current address lists him as "Dan Mahoney," born June 9, 1955. Mahony was born on July 9 of that year.)

                  Mullen says Mahony was chosen because of his conservative beliefs and to provide "geographic balance" to the ticket. Mahony, like Golisano, has never held political office, but has run unsuccessfully as a Conservative Party candidate for New York City Council and State Assembly. "The fact he's not a politician is an advantage," Mullen says.

                  Mullen called allegations Mahony was picked to confuse conservative voters "absolute nonsense."

                  "George Pataki is trying to confuse conservative voters," Mullen says, mentioning the governor's support for gun control and growth in the size of the state budget. Pataki's "spending more liberally than Mario Cuomo," Mullen says. "That's confusing."

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