Parties' parity as fund-raisers a bit deceiving

The Political Game

Financing: While Democrats and the GOP have similar balances in their treasuries, Maryland's wealthiest benefactors, with their five-figure donations, appear to favor the Democratic Party.

November 27, 2001|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

A QUICK LOOK at the most recent campaign finance records seems to show the state Republican Party pulling even with Democrats in the quest for cash.

But looks can be deceiving.

The Democratic State Central Committee raised nearly $360,000 in the reporting period that ended Nov. 8, and the state GOP committee did nearly as well -- taking in about $313,000.

The apparent parity is intriguing, given that registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in Maryland by nearly 2-to-1 and control the governor's mansion, both chambers of the legislature and every other statewide office.

The fund-raising efforts of both parties went largely to pay for operations, such as staff salaries and office space. As a result, neither organization has much of a campaign treasury as it enters an important election year when a governor, eight members of Congress and 188 state legislators will be chosen.

Democrats reported a $43,657 unspent balance in their state accounts. Republicans had slightly more at $48,682.

But don't cry for the Democrats just yet. A closer examination of data filed with the state elections board shows that the party knows how to exercise its dominance and has healthy resources to call upon when needed.

In the three years since the 1998 election, a period that includes the 2000 presidential election, the state Democratic party has significantly out-raised the GOP, taking in nearly $1.5 million compared with the Republicans' $967,034.

And the Democrats have blown the competition away when it comes to collecting hefty five-figure donations from wealthy professional and corporate benefactors.

Fourteen individuals, corporations or interest groups have contributed $10,000 or more to the party of Jefferson and Jackson since last year, compared with only two such donations for the GOP. Contributors are allowed to exceed the usual $10,000 cap on donations in Maryland if they give money to political parties, to be used exclusively for administrative expenses.

The largest single check to either party came from attorney and Baltimore Orioles majority owner Peter G. Angelos, who gave the Democrats $75,000 in October 2000.

"Peter Angelos is a major donor -- not only to the state party, he's given more even on a national basis than at home," said state Democratic Chairman Wayne L. Rogers. "That's somebody committed to the party and its ideals."

Angelos often figures prominently in analyses of so-called "soft-money" contributions to national parties. Business Week reported last year that Angelos donated $933,200 to the Democratic Party during the 2000 election cycle, ranking second nationally among trial lawyers.

Another contributor rivals Angelos' generosity but is far less known. Maryland's Democrats received a combined $35,000 in two donations from a computer company called ISMart of Elkridge, and $30,000 from ISCapital of Scottsdale, Ariz. Both corporations are controlled by Japeh Youssefi of Scottsdale, said Rogers.

"He has been a donor to federal candidates and state candidates," Rogers said. "In this case, he just donated to the party."

ISMart has several contracts to provide computers to state government agencies in Maryland, according to the company Web site.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who cannot seek re-election, transferred $35,000 from his Marylanders for Glendening account to the state party in September 2000, and Lockheed Martin IMS of Teaneck, N.J., gave $20,000 in two donations last year.

Donors who gave $10,000 each to the state Democrats are D.C. Chartered Health Plan Inc., Maryland State Teachers Association Inc., U.S. Strategies Corp. of West Palm Beach, Fla., W.M. Rickman Construction Co. of Rockville, Allan M. Fox of Chevy Chase, Christopher R. McCleary of Severna Park, Maurice B. Tose of Annapolis, Herschel Blumberg of Hyattsville and Edward H. Kaplan of Washington.

"Some people can give their time. Other people give their money," said Rogers.

Republicans in Maryland seem to have fewer of those people.

The party's only $10,000 donations came from John E. Dell of Potomac and Harvey M. Meyerhoff of Baltimore.

Because there was no election this year, 2001 was a relatively slow time for both parties. The next surge in money will come after the legislative session ends in the spring and campaigning begins in earnest.

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