Democrat James N. Robey and Republican Dennis R. Schrader have been raising money for their Howard County executive battle from the people each knows best, two starkly different groups for whom the winner can wield tremendous influence.
Robey, the less well-financed of the candidates with almost $82,000, has raised about a third of his money from at least 136 county employees, their close relatives and public safety unions that could benefit from a victory by the former police chief, according to a review of campaign contributions through Oct. 18.
Schrader has raised more than $100,000 of his $238,000 -- more than 40 percent -- from businesses that have a keen interest in who runs Howard County: developers and firms that have bid on county contracts.
Observers of money and politics wonder whether such fund raising could influence the independence of the candidate elected to the county's most powerful post. At the least, the two candidates' divergent bases of support offer insights into where each campaign has struck a chord and how each candidate might govern.
Schrader, who has built his campaign in large part on encouraging commercial growth, has received more than $90,000 from commercial and residential development businesses, a broad category that includes homebuilders, road builders, architects, engineers and development consultants.
Nearly $50,000 of that development money, plus almost $10,000 in other contributions, came from donors representing at least 67 companies that are on the county's list of potential bidders for purchases and contracts. Twenty-six of those companies have been awarded more than $20 million in contracts since Jan. 1, 1995, according to county purchasing records.
That amounts to $100,000 in contributions from companies that could do business with a Schrader administration -- without double-counting contributions from development-related businesses that are also potential bidders. Of that total, Schrader has returned $19,000 to firms with which he has done business as an executive approving construction and renovation contracts at the University of Maryland Medical System.
The contributions he has kept include:
$6,596 in cash and in-kind contributions from Savage Mill and its principals, who have received financial help from the county and will need approval for a planned business expansion.
$6,500 from entities controlled by Joseph and Jack Nazario, brothers who own two Beltsville paving businesses that have received two Howard County contracts totaling $88,500 since 1995.
$6,590 from Frederick W. Maier and his entities. Maier, of Burtonsville, has an industrial park on U.S. 1 in Howard County and says he is preparing to build more warehouses. He contributed at the request of a couple of members of Schrader's finance committee, including an architect on his warehouse projects, George Vaeth Jr., whose $3,425 in contributions were returned because he has done work for the medical system.
"I'm supporting him because, like I say, I don't live there, but I am building in Howard County," Maier said. He said he wants to be able to build what he wants on his property, and Schrader is pro-business. "He's not stopping me, not trying to stop me. He's encouraging me."
Many of Schrader's business donors say they support the Republican because he talks convincingly about making Howard County more friendly to businesses. They often add that they are not concerned with whether the county becomes more friendly with their own businesses.
"My support for Dennis Schrader is not for personal business interest at all, I'd like to make that clear," said Joseph Nazario, owner of Nazario Construction Co., a paving and concrete ready-mix business.
Nazario has given to many political campaigns over the years. Asked why, as a Prince George's County resident, he is interested in the Howard County executive's race, he said, "I might live there someday."
Nazario is also one of many minority business owners who have contributed to Schrader, who has promised that as executive he would reach out more to minority contractors. Though Nazario says he usually doesn't use his minority status in applying for contracts, several other donors are interested in this campaign promise.
"Minority businesses have gotten a raw deal in Howard County," says Walter Morgan, owner of Morgan Management Systems, an information technology business in Columbia. Morgan has helped organize a group of nearly 20 black business leaders and prominent local African-Americans that is throwing support behind Schrader in hopes the county will begin awarding 10 percent or more of its contracts to minority-owned firms.
"We have a sufficient number of businesses in this community who qualify to take advantage of that [minority contracting] program once it becomes a priority," Morgan said.