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WASHINGTON – Rep.-elect Chris Collins, R-Clarence, dove headlong into the ways of Washington during his first round of congressional orientation last week, raising $60,000 at a breakfast that sought donations of between $500 and $5,000 from individuals and political action committees.

The Collins breakfast, which took place Thursday at the Capitol Hill Club, came toward the tail end of a week of meetings where soon-to-be first-year lawmakers met with their colleagues from across the country, sometimes on a bipartisan basis and sometimes not.

Billed in an email flier as a “Debt Retirement Breakfast,” that’s exactly what it was.

“I’ve got bills to pay,” said Collins, who said that he had told some campaign vendors – including a pollster and people who took part in the making of his television ads – that his campaign would not be able to pay them till after the election.

Indeed, Collins’ last statement to the Federal Election Commission, which was filed in mid-October, showed him owing $7,500 to Public Opinion Strategies, $4,782 to Henninger Media Services and $3,036 to Epiphany Productions – the fundraising firm that put together Collins’ Debt Retirement Breakfast.

The biggest debt Collins owes, $650,000, is to himself: the businessman-turned-politician loaned his campaign that amount as the campaign downplayed fundraising until after the election.

Political action committees, in particular, are reluctant to contribute to congressional challengers, Collins said. So for that reason, he said, he waited until after he defeated Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Hamburg, to push for their contributions.

Asked how he would respond to any critics who complained about him holding a fundraiser on his first post-election visit to Washington, Collins said: “It’s part of the political process. All I can say is that I was independent as county executive, and I’ll be independent as a member of Congress.”

The fundraiser capped a week of planning sessions for Collins, in which he and other newly elected House members learned the details of their coming work in Washington.

“There was a lot to absorb,” Collins said. “It was very useful.”

Collins also gave his take on his much-discussed and absolutely accidental attendance at a Democratic caucus breakfast last Wednesday.

“I went to sit with this delightful guy from California; I could tell he knew where he was going,” Collins said.

Collins and the Californian shared a nice conversation and Collins enjoyed quiche, bacon and sausage, which he deemed better than the GOP breakfast offerings.

“No one asked me who I was or what I was doing there, no one raised a red flag,” Collins said. “It hit me that I was in the wrong place when [Democratic Leader] Nancy Pelosi walked in. That was the tip-off.”

Collins quickly rushed out of the breakfast despite the delightful company of the Democrat from California.

Asked for the name of his breakfast companion, Collins said he didn’t remember.

“I’m so terrible with names,” he said. “It was a younger guy.”

email: jzremski@buffnews.com