Ehrlich raises $2.5 million toward re-election effort

Possible Democratic rivals also post impressive totals

January 21, 2004|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has raised almost $2.5 million toward his 2006 re-election campaign and has more than twice as much money on hand as his top two prospective Democratic rivals.

Figures released yesterday by the campaigns showed that Ehrlich, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan raised impressive totals for the first year of a four-year election cycle. Today is the deadline for filing reports with the state elections board on money raised during the 53-week period that ended Jan. 14.

O'Malley took in almost $1.9 million during the past year but had $832,958 on hand because of his spending on last year's Democratic mayoral primary, which he won handily.

Duncan raised $964,444 and had more than $1 million in his bank account.

The three candidates' fund-raising efforts exemplify the spiral of big money politics in Maryland. Just eight years ago, former Gov. Parris N. Glendening raised eyebrows by taking in about $400,000 during his first year in office.

Thomas F. Schaller, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, said he was not surprised by the totals. He said a lot of what would be Republican contributions has been sidelined in Maryland by years of Democratic dominance. Now that is changing, he said.

"Ehrlich's election opens the spigots for that money to funnel into Republican Party coffers," he said. "I think Ehrlich will pass easily $20 million for re-election and will need every penny."

John C. Reith, Ehrlich's campaign finance chairman, said the governor received 8,331 individual contributions, 8,013 of them from in-state donors. He said more than half the contributors - accounting for about half the money raised - came from people who had not given to Ehrlich before.

The campaign ended the reporting period with just over $2 million on hand.

"The Ehrlich campaign is really happy with the results. The governor is very happy," Reith said.

Ehrlich was able to raise the $2.5 million without making the type of all-out effort he undertook during the 2002 campaign, when he raised a record $10.4 million.

"The governor didn't make one call for fund-raisers in 2003," Reith said.

Colleen Martin-Lauer, O'Malley's chief fund-raiser, noted that the mayor, who entered the campaign reporting period with just over $1 million on hand, spent $2.1 million last year. About $800,000 was spent on advertising - an investment that apparently has paid off in high poll numbers in the Baltimore area.

"We appreciate the vote of confidence from the people who helped us raise almost $2 million this year, because of the progress the mayor and the people of Baltimore have made in the last four years," Martin-Lauer said.

Kate Sheckells, a Duncan campaign spokeswoman, expressed similar satisfaction with her candidate's fund-raising efforts - boasting that 1,100 contributors have donated to his effort.

At about the same point of the 2002 election cycle, Duncan had raised just over $500,000 for what was then viewed as a possible race against then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. He eventually decided to run for a third term as county executive.

Townsend, who would go on to lose to Ehrlich in 2002, raised just over $900,000 in the first year after her 1998 re-election.

At the time, political consultants described her fund raising as extraordinary for so early in the campaign. Ehrlich's first-year take is 250 percent higher.

The Ehrlich campaign treasury is supplemented by $281,971 from the campaign funds of Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who raised $372,884 last year. The Republican team reported combined cash on hand of $2.3 million.

Sun staff writer David Nitkin contributed to this article.

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