A 2002 BAN on unregulated donations to national political parties has curtailed spending on television advertising by state committees, a study released last week concluded.
An analysis by the Center for Public Integrity in Washington found that the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, also known as the McCain-Feingold law, has reduced the amount of money national parties transfer to states for political activities.
State parties raised $725 million in the 2003-2004 election cycle, down from $821 million in the 2001-2002 cycle, the report said. The state parties get about 40 percent of their money as transfers from their national parents, according to the center.
Instead of buying television advertisements, state parties have "definitely reinvested money in get-out-the-vote efforts," said Agustin Armendariz, one of the authors of the study.
Maryland appears to be following the trend. State Democratic and Republican parties here took in $3.9 million during the 2003-2004 cycle, down from $8.6 million in 2001-2002, the report showed.
But the McCain-Feingold restrictions explain only a small part of the drop, political experts say. In Maryland, nonpresidential election years receive heightened attention because candidates for governor and all 188 members of the state General Assembly are on the ballot.
The Maryland statistics reveal another development: With Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s election, the state GOP has escalated its fund raising and has eclipsed Democrats.
The state Republican Party raised $2.6 million in the 2003-2004 season, up from $1.8 million in 2001-2002 and $390,00 in 1999-2000. Democratic contributions dropped from $6.7 million in 2001-2002 to $1.3 million in 2003-2004. They were $1.1 million in 1999-2000.
"We've got a Republican governor who is providing strong leadership for the state," said Audra Miller, a spokeswoman for the state GOP. "People want to support that."
One donor's behavior in particular illustrates the trend, said James Browning, executive director of Common Cause Maryland.
Through corporate entities, Montgomery County developer and racetrack owner Bill Rickman Jr. gave $51,000 to the Democratic Party and $10,000 to the GOP in 2001-2002. Two years later, he had given $20,000 to Democrats and $20,500 to Republicans.
Rickman is "a one-man bellwether" of the state's current political climate, with business interests seeking access to the party in power, Browning said.
Josh White, political director of the state Democratic Party, said it is too soon to assess the impact of the federal ban on soft-money contributions.
"McCain-Feingold probably hasn't stopped one more dollar from being raised," White said. "It's just different rules how you are going to spend it overall. For us, looking ahead, even with McCain-Feingold, the [national] party will play a significant role in the elections next year. While some doors close, other doors open."
Even with the federal restriction, Maryland political parties benefit from an enormous loophole, said Browning. Donors can give unlimited amounts to the parties for administrative purposes.
"It renders other contribution limits almost meaningless," he said.
State GOP plans to target some Assembly Democrats
The state GOP has a good idea how it wants to spend those new-found riches. The party has set specific goals for chipping away at Democrat control of the General Assembly and is hoping that 2006 is a watershed election.
Miller, the spokeswoman for the state party, disclosed last week that the party has developed "core numbers" for the gains it hopes to make in the Assembly. The target: a pickup of seven seats in the 47-member state Senate, where there are 14 Republicans; and 14 seats in the 141-member House of Delegates, which has 43 GOP members.
Miller would not disclose which seats are targeted. But many of them are - particularly in the Senate - easy to figure out.
Freshman Democratic Sen. James Brochin of Baltimore County is facing a challenge from Dilip Paliath, an Ehrlich administration official. St. Mary's County Commission President Thomas F. McKay, a Republican, is planning to run against Sen. Roy P. Dyson in Southern Maryland, and the Republican Party has run radio ads targeting three Democratic senators in Anne Arundel County - John C. Astle, James E. DeGrange Sr. and Philip C. Jimeno.
A loss of five Senate seats would drop the Democratic majority below the supermajority needed to sustain a filibuster and would change the dynamics of the chamber.
Derek Walker, a Democratic Party spokesman, is skeptical that the GOP will make any advances. "I think we can pick up seats in both chambers," he said. "I would say to Audra, show me the targets. I'll tell you how we can beat every one of them."
Bartlett gets competition; Democrats elect 2 leaders
Andrew Duck, a Democrat and an Army veteran, announced last week that he will challenge Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett in Maryland's 6th Congressional District. Bartlett, a Republican, is running for re-election. ... The state Democratic Party announced two new leadership positions. The state central committee elected Heather R. Mizeur, a Takoma Park City Council member, to succeed Susan W. Turnbull as national committeewoman. Turnbull was elected vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. Oz Bengur of Baltimore County was elected party treasurer, replacing Gary Gensler.