Ruppersberger's campaign chest swells $1 million expected by '98 county election

Campaign 1998

November 28, 1996|By Ronnie Greene | Ronnie Greene,SUN STAFF

Halfway through his first term, Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger has raised a $400,000 campaign chest and is well on the way to eclipsing the political dollars garnered during his 1994 election.

Benefiting from the powers of incumbency and bankrolled partially by companies doing business with the county, Ruppersberger is on a pace to exceed $1 million in contributions by the 1998 election.

In all, he has raised more than $572,000 since winning office two years ago. After expenses, the Democratic executive has $400,000 in the bank, according to a report filed this week with the county Supervisors of Elections -- even as he readies for another fund-raiser in March.

To the Ruppersberger camp, the stockpile serves as a yellow flag to potential competitors. Last week, Ruppersberger told 100 business and political leaders he intends to seek re-election.

"For anybody thinking about running against Dutch for county executive, $400,000 is a lot of money to have on hand halfway through the term," said Ruppersberger's chief spokesman, Michael H. Davis. "Obviously, having the resources to be able to pay for your message is important."

To be sure, Ruppersberger would enjoy advantages of money -- and party affiliation -- over Republican rivals. In Baltimore County, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than a 2-1 margin.

Still, those numbers don't deter the county's Republican Party chairman, Kent Swanson, who points to recent county history as proof that the underdog can prevail. To that end, Swanson's party has begun to search for a rival to Ruppersberger.

In 1994, Ruppersberger won office while raising about $741,000 compared with Republican Roger B. Hayden's $867,131. In 1990, Hayden defeated Dennis F. Rasmussen despite Rasmussen's 9-1 fund-raising advantage.

"You can have all that money and do so much spin doctoring. But in a county this size, the spin doctoring really doesn't work the way it does on a national level," Swanson said yesterday.

"It's the voters of Baltimore County that make the final decision," Swanson added. "And you're not talking about people who are out of touch with what's going on in the county that can have smoke blown in their faces."

Without making specific accusations, Swanson suggested that a cash stockpile might become a liability. "You have to go back to take a look at where the contributions came from, the potential influence of those contributions," he said.

A Sun review of Ruppersberger's latest campaign report -- documenting donations from December 1995 to November 1996 found dozens of contributions from companies doing business with the county.

Spokesman Davis played down their significance. "Business people obviously make their own choices who they're going to contribute to," Davis said. "We haven't been overly aggressive about the fund-raising. People think he's doing a good job and they've wanted to help."

Among the contributions:

Over the last year, 18 trash haulers on the county payroll contributed a total of $13,000. "They've traditionally been active as contributors," Davis said.

Five consultants selected by the county's Professional Services Selection Committee for heavily sought-after design, architectural and engineering work contributed a total of $2,500 over the past year. Davis said Ruppersberger does not select the firms. "They have a committee who makes that decision," he said.

Comcast Cable, due to begin talks with the county next month on a franchise renewal, gave $1,500 to Ruppersberger in March, adding to an earlier $200 contribution. Of the pending franchise agreement, Davis said: "The county executive doesn't have anything to do with it. It comes before the County Council."

Executives of the $30 billion MBNA America Bank credit card company continue to contribute heavily. In the past year, executives with the Delaware-based firm donated $6,100 -- bringing to at least $44,450 the total contributions to Ruppersberger from executives and the company since the 1994 campaign.

After he took office, Ruppersberger ordered an MBNA credit card for county business. He and the company say the contributions stem from a relationship that predates politics: As a private attorney, he handled some of the firm's legal work, forging friendships.

Businesses aren't the only ones to chip in; some fellow county executives are doing so, too.

The "Friends of Doug Duncan," Montgomery County's executive, gave $2,000 in August. And the "Friends of Eileen Rehrmann," Harford County's executive, gave $2,100 over July and August.

"Dutch and Doug have a lot in common on policy issues," said David S. Weaver, Duncan's spokesman. "He admires Mr. Ruppersberger as an individual and he admires his leadership as county executive."

Duncan -- like Ruppersberger -- has been prominently mentioned as a possible candidate for governor in 1998. But Duncan -- again, like Ruppersberger -- has publicly stated plans to stay put.

For Ruppersberger, the donations flow most heavily during annual March fund-raisers, where tickets sell for $100 to $500. This year's event generated $360,000, according to his financial report.

He's on a pace to raise more than $1.14 million, 54 percent more than 1994. But Davis expects the total will be higher -- double the 1994 total.

Pub Date: 11/28/96

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