A year before the next election, Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger has more campaign money in the bank than any of his peers -- or most candidates for governor.
With $564,000 on hand, he has more cash on hand than the executives in Anne Arundel, Prince George's and Montgomery counties, the latest campaign finance reports show.
He's well ahead of Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey, who nearly won the office in 1994. He has nearly twice as much cash as the combined total for gubernatorial candidates Eileen M. Rehrmann, Harford County's Democratic executive, and Charles I. Ecker, Howard County's Republican executive.
Noting the big bankroll, officials in both parties say Ruppersberger is an odds-on favorite for re-election, and could be building support for a run for governor in 2002.
"Being a county executive is like having a license to raise money," says Carol L. Hirschburg, a Sauerbrey consultant who was a spokeswoman for former Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden.
Variety of contributors
Ruppersberger's cash comes from a wide range of contributors -- trash haulers, developers and lawyers, and union and corporate political action committees, according to the campaign report filed this month. Charles Cawley, who heads credit card giant MBNA Corp., gave money; so did Nick Kostas Frank, who was recently convicted of operating illegal video poker machines in the county.
Despite all his cash, Ruppersberger discourages speculation about a primary challenge to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a fellow Democrat. Ruppersberger says he plans to seek re-election, adding that his top priority is obtaining more school construction money -- which the governor controls -- not statewide politics.
"It's incredible," state Sen. F. Vernon Boozer, a Towson Republican, says of the county executive's bankroll. The money-raising process, he adds, "is out of control. I used to run for House of Delegates for a few thousand."
"Business people in this state, they feel like guns are being held to their heads. They're being bled white."
Dawn Kane, a spokeswoman for Common Cause-Maryland, a political watchdog group, said the democratic process is hurt by the routine gathering of huge contributions years before an election. "This serves to discourage opponents from running," and "distances people from their government."
Council fund raising
County Council members reported much less money on hand. Totals ranged from Dundalk Democrat Louis L. DePazzo's $9,200 -- he was one of three members with less than $20,000 -- to north county-Owings Mills Republican T. Bryan McIntire's $73,655. Chairman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat, had $46,522.
Although most observers in both parties believe Ruppersberger could win re-election with little trouble, he says he relishes a competitive race. "I wouldn't know what to do without a tough race."
Even his critics think that won't happen, though. No challengers have surfaced.
"I think he's a shoo-in," said John D. O'Neill, chairman of the Maryland Taxpayer's Association.
Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat, says Ruppersberger won't need to use all his money to win re-election. "If I were his financial adviser, I wouldn't spend it [all]," Kamenetz says.
Money is no guarantee
Still, anyone who thinks it's impossible to beat an incumbent Democrat in a county with a 2-1 Democratic voter registration edge and lots of cash on hand need only check 1990's election results. Democrat Dennis F. Rasmussen had all those advantages -- spending $1.1 million -- and still lost big to novice Hayden.
Since the 1994 election, Ruppersberger has raised nearly $900,000 and spent nearly $350,000 on expenses such as campaign office rents, staff salaries and fund raising.
In the 12-month period covered by the latest report, county trash haulers gave him a combined $10,800, though $1,000 of that had to be refunded to a hauler who exceeded the $4,000 limit. The private haulers who collect the county's trash operate on a handshake with county officials, and traditionally are big contributors to every executive.
Another $10,700 came from political action committees, ranging from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s PAC to Baltimore County Firefighters Local 1311. The firefighters bought $1,000 worth of tickets despite a continuing feud with the executive over pay raises and a vow to stop giving money to politicians.
A large part of the $300,000 Ruppersberger raised since last November came in donations of $1,000 or more. He received $1,500 from Cawley, whose decision to move a branch office of his Delaware-based company to Hunt Valley could bring 3,000 jobs to the county.
Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos chipped in $2,500, and developer Howard Brown, who embarrassed Ruppersberger last year by demolishing the historic Samuel Owings house in Owings Mills, bought a $500 ticket to his March fund-raiser.
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Cash on hand .. .. .. Total cont.
C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger
(Baltimore County) .. .. .. .. .. ..$564,000 .. .. .. ...$875,000
Ellen R. Sauerbrey .. .. .. .. .. ..$425,000 .. .. .. .$1 million
Charles I. Ecker (Howard) .. .. .. ..$86,549 .. .. .. ...$142,500
Eileen M. Rehrmann (Harford) .. .. .$207,000 .. .. .. ...$483,000
Wayne K. Curry (Prince George's) ...$255,000 .. .. .. ...$792,000
Douglas M. Duncan (Montgomery) .. ..$199,600 .. .. .. ...$299,671
John G. Gary (Anne Arundel) .. .. ..$236,600 .. .. .. ...$466,000
SOURCE: Maryland campaign finance reports
Pub Date: 11/19/97