Publicly financed Sauerbrey tells donors no thanks CAMPAIGN 1994 -- THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR

September 22, 1994|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Sun Staff Writer

Supporters of Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey who want to give money to her campaign are getting the most unexpected response in politics: No thanks.

Mrs. Sauerbrey is the first candidate in Maryland to run a general election campaign using public financing, and sometime next week she will receive a check for $997,800 in state funds.

But under the law, Mrs. Sauerbrey can spend no more than that on her campaign.

That means she is suggesting would-be contributors look elsewhere.

"What I'm telling them is there are many other Republican candidates who need help," Mrs. Sauerbrey said earlier this week. "The state party needs help."

Meanwhile, Republicans are navigating a legal maze to find ways to spend more money on her behalf. They're also trying to take advantage of an opening provided by the Democratic General Assembly, which earlier this year raised the roof on spending by political parties.

During the primary, Mrs. Sauerbrey raised enough money on her own to qualify for public financing and received $121,000 in state funds, money she said was crucial to beating her better-financed primary opponent, U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley.

Despite her $1 million bonanza for the general election, Mrs. Sauerbrey is still likely to be outspent by her Democratic opponent, Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening. He expects to spend $2.5 million between the primary and general elections, bringing his total for the campaign to at least $5 million, according to his campaign manager, Emily Smith.

Ms. Smith said public financing gives Mrs. Sauerbrey an advantage because she doesn't have to spend time raising money. But she added, "I don't think [Mrs. Sauerbrey] could have raised close to that without public financing. I don't think the people who contribute traditionally in Maryland races like her policies."

To make up some of the difference in fund raising, Republicans are looking for ways to legally spend on her behalf.

The party, for example, raised roughly $13,000 Monday night at a Montgomery County event that featured national party Chairman Haley Barbour. But state GOP officials aren't sure if that money, or other party contributions, can be used on Mrs. Sauerbrey's behalf without counting against the amount she can spend -- negating the impact of her public financing.

It's unclear, for example, if the party could conduct polls or basic get-out-the-vote activities that might benefit Mrs. Sauerbrey. The GOP this week asked the Maryland attorney general's office for a ruling,

"I want to make sure my i's are dotted and my t's are crossed," said state GOP chairwoman Joyce L. Terhes. "The Democrats realize they're very close to losing power in Maryland. I think they'll scrutinize what color shoes we have on each day."

During its 1994 session, the Democratic-controlled General Assembly, at the urging of the Democratic Party, rewrote the law to increase the amount state and local parties could spend on a candidate from $10,000 to about $2 million.

The one candidate in the state who might be precluded from any benefit under the new law is Mrs. Sauerbrey, the only candidate running on public financing.

"It's uncharted territory," Mrs. Sauerbrey said.

While questions remain about how much help the GOP can give Mrs. Sauerbrey, it's clear that independent campaign committees are free to raise and spend money on her behalf, as long as she had no involvement. The only such group to surface, United Sportsmen for Sauerbrey, had raised less than $3,000 as of late August.

Public financing of state elections was first approved by the General Assembly in 1974, through donations Maryland residents made when they filed their income tax forms.

But after years of debate and tinkering, the legislature pushed the starting date back to 1994.

It also narrowed the law so that only gubernatorial candidates would be eligible for the fund, which totaled $2.7 million at the start of the campaign.

Along with Mrs. Sauerbrey, state Sens. American Joe Miedusiewski and Mary H. Boergers, both Democrats, qualified for and accepted public financing during the primary.

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