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Two Republicans in 22nd District race feud over past donations

The campaigns of Claudia Tenney and Steve Wells

Two Republican candidates running for the open seat in New York's 22nd Congressional District are feuding over past campaign donations. New Hartford Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney is criticizing her main rival, Cazenovia businessman Steve Wells, for donations he and his company have made in the past to Democrats.

Wells has personally given money to some Democrats, such as former Rep. Dan Maffei. But it's a $10,000 contribution that his Syracuse-based company, American Food and Vending, made to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's campaign that is at the heart of the controversy. Wells said he did not sign off on that donation. Even so, he said his company cannot be knocked for being bipartisan.

"It's only a microcosm of what people are talking about with Donald Trump and it doesn't seem to bother the people with Donald Trump," Wells said. "He's donated -- what, to Hillary Clinton and everybody else? Well, this is one donation -- frankly insignificant in the big picture -- to the governor who raised millions of dollars."

Tenney has implied that Wells is lying about not approving that donation. But she says even worse is the impression that his company is part of a pay-to-play scheme because it has contracts with state government entities, like at SUNY Polytechnic.

"Steve Wells is trying to claim, 'Oh I didn't have anything to do with it, but it's also OK to be bipartisan,'" Tenney said. "Which one is it? Is it OK to be bipartisan? Did you do it? Are you going to try to stop it in Albany, in Washington what's been going on when you're part of it?"

It's the second spat in recent days between the two candidates. Wells called on Tenney to debate him in all of the eight counties encompassed by the 22nd District before the June primary. He said the debate will highlight his background in the private sector, which he said separates him from "career politicians in Albany."

A Tenney spokeswoman responded by saying the assemblywoman is interested in debates organized by a neutral party, but her time in the state legislature has been a record of conservative leadership and experience challenging corrupt New York politicians. Wells said the third Republican in the race, George Phillips of Binghamton, would be welcome at the debate.

The three GOP candidates, as well as Democrats David Gordon, a former Oneida County legislator, and Kim Myers, a current legislator from Broome County, are running to replace retiring Rep. Richard Hanna.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.