Spending is mostly behind the scenes

Routine costs for Ehrlich, Townsend as media blitz lurks around the corner

Election 2002

August 23, 2002|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

With a combined $7.3 million in their campaign checking accounts, Maryland's leading candidates for governor will eventually wash the state in television commercials and glossy brochures.

But so far, Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. are spending money in ways voters will never notice.

Townsend is assembling a well-compensated team of professionals - including a Rhodes scholar and former Clinton speech writer who was paid $67,500 to create a "blueprint" of positions on the issues.

Her accountants received $103,000 to review her finances, and a fund-raising outfit got $154,648 as its share of the money it brought in.

Ehrlich has no paid speech writers or accountants. But he deposited $35,000 into a recently created "Democrats for Ehrlich" fund - money that accounted for virtually all of the group's resources until this week.

Meanwhile, both campaigns have begun spending heavily in what is certain to be the costliest Maryland campaign ever.

Since April, when campaigning began in earnest with the end of the General Assembly session, Townsend has spent $863,339, records show. Ehrlich has spent $656,712.

Much of the money has gone to routine costs such as office space, telephone service, staff salaries and food for fund-raising events. Ehrlich's largest single expense has been a $68,000 order for signs and stickers. Townsend spent $186,500 to air an introductory television commercial last month.

But Townsend, in particular, appears willing to pay for some services that Ehrlich and other candidates receive for free or would never consider.

When the Democratic candidate was putting together a booklet on her positions on the issues, she turned to Jeff Shesol, a Brown University graduate and Rhodes scholar who was a deputy speech writer in the Clinton White House.

Shesol's company, West Wing Writers LLC, received $22,500 in December, records show, and six additional payments of $7,500 each through last month.

Shesol, the author of a book about the strained relationship between Lyndon B. Johnson and Townsend's father, Robert F. Kennedy, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Townsend campaign spokesman Len Foxwell declined to provide details about Shesol's work, but said he completed "various tasks," including the blueprint.

He pointed out that Ehrlich has yet to produce a similar written vision for Maryland. "He put out a lead paint proposal that looks like it could have been written on the back of a cocktail napkin," Foxwell said.

Paul Schurick, a spokesman for Ehrlich, said the congressman has no Rhodes scholars working on his behalf. "There's not a lot of intellectuals on our staff," he said.

"We are running a campaign based on volunteers and people with tremendous experience in Maryland politics. [Townsend's] strategy is to raise a lot of money, spend it on a lot of consultants and try to win the election on television," Schurick said.

Since the last campaign reports were filed, Townsend has continued to add paid employees. In the past week, she has hired Karen White as a manager and Peter Hamm as press secretary. The staff members who had performed those functions have not been let go.

Townsend campaign chairman Alan H. Fleischmann receives $4,026 every two weeks, records show. Campaign manager Barry Rubin gets $2,930. Stacie Rivera, the former office manager in the lieutenant governor's Annapolis office, is paid $3,625 bimonthly.

Ehrlich, too, has his share of paid professionals. Campaign manager James C. "Chip" DiPaula collects $3,080 every two weeks, according to the records. Del. Joseph M. Getty, a Carroll County Republican, gets $1,525 as a political adviser, and Schurick is paid $1,510.

Still, the Townsend campaign has paid for professional services that Ehrlich receives at no cost or has opted to do without.

In 1999 and 2000, her campaign paid $19,108 to Piper Rudnick, the well-known law firm, for unspecified legal services. Ehrlich has no outside counsel for his campaign.

Also in 1999 and 2000, Townsend paid $154,648 to the Bonner Group Inc., a Washington fund-raising company. Ehrlich uses paid in-house staff to raise money, and Townsend switched to such a system last year, her campaign said.

Between November 1999 and last month, Townsend's accountant, Hervey G. Machen of Annapolis, was paid more than $103,000. Ehrlich's report lists no accounting expenses.

Donald F. Norris, a professor of policy sciences at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said services such as accounting are donated to most candidates by supporters.

The money Townsend spent on her blueprint book "is largely wasted," Norris said, because voters will never read it.

"It's all the nitty-gritty organizational stuff that turns out voters and gets the yard signs planted," Norris said.

Sidney J. Burns, a Silver Spring accountant who is running for lieutenant governor on a Republican ticket with perennial candidate Ross Z. Pierpont, called Townsend's campaign treasury "a bottomless pit." He has criticized the size of the lieutenant governor's office and worries about her spending proclivities if she were to win.

"I personally don't think they have a concept of what things cost," Burns said. "And what's scary is they will carry that into the governor's mansion if they get elected."

Foxwell, Townsend's spokesman, said the campaign is spending wisely.

"We're investing our resources responsibly and targeting our efforts carefully," he said. "The bottom line is this: We are going to have the resources we need to compete in the fall and win on Nov. 5."

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