O'Malley looks to Los Angeles as source of campaign cash

May 26, 2006|By JOHN FRITZE | JOHN FRITZE,SUN REPORTER

He has a healthy flair for theatrics and rarely shies from a camera, but Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley was in Los Angeles yesterday in search of something else Hollywood is known for: campaign cash.

O'Malley, whose whereabouts have been something of a mystery lately, turned up at two Southern California fundraising events held for his gubernatorial bid, including one co-hosted by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa at a posh hotel on the Avenue of the Stars.

Glitzy $1,000-per-plate fundraisers are nothing new in Los Angeles, where politics and entertainment increasingly intersect, but it is relatively unusual for Maryland candidates to tap into Tinseltown's largess, and critics pounced on the trip as an out-of-state bonanza for a candidate who is supposed to be focused on home.

"Martin O'Malley will be at home with liberals like Barbra Streisand, Michael Moore and Rob Reiner," said Audra Miller, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Republican Party. "Martin O'Malley will have to appeal to out-of-state contributors who are unfamiliar with his failed record."

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who is also seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, had a more muted response. "This is an odd beginning to his campaign's new focus on Maryland," Duncan spokeswoman Jody Couser said.

O'Malley, fresh off a two-day Las Vegas trip to attend the International Council of Shopping Centers conference, appeared at the first event yesterday morning, a meet-and-greet at the office of billionaire Democratic fundraiser Ronald W. Burkle. Burkle, whose public relations firm did not return a phone call seeking comment, recently exposed an alleged extortion scheme by a part-time gossip columnist at the New York Post.

Then, O'Malley moved on to a lunch fundraiser at Breeze, a restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza organized by newly elected Mayor Villaraigosa and former Clinton White House aide John Emerson. About 20 people attended, said Emerson, who characterized the event more as a roundtable discussion on policy than a gathering of movie stars. In fact, he said, there were no stars.

"It was people who basically are attracted to talented, progressive candidates for office," said Emerson, who said he met O'Malley while the two worked together on Gary Hart's 1984 presidential campaign. "Martin O'Malley is a very charismatic, exciting individual and people want to help."

Villaraigosa, who along with O'Malley is a member of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, did not return a call seeking comment.

Emerson acknowledged that many Southern California donors know little about O'Malley, but said that was no problem because candidates from across the country frequently make the trip there to raise money.

To brief potential donors, he said, he distributed an article published in Time magazine last year that named O'Malley one of the nation's top five mayors, a designation the campaign frequently brags about.

Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, noted that many Democratic candidates have been to California for low-key fundraisers that they hope will build recognition for their campaign among a wider audience.

"It is the rare Democratic candidate from the East Coast who doesn't make repeated trips to Hollywood for fundraising," he said. "The old saying, which I've used many times, is that politics is Hollywood for ugly people."

O'Malley campaign officials declined to comment on the events but fought claims that he is raising an inordinate amount of out-of-state money. O'Malley raised about $925,000 from outside of Maryland in 2005, compared to $565,000 for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and $210,000 for Duncan, according to Maryland State Board of Elections campaign finance records.

"It is the policy of this campaign not to comment on fundraisers," said O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese. "This campaign intends to compete with Bob Ehrlich, President Bush and the Republican fund-raising machine."

An Ehrlich spokeswoman declined to comment.

O'Malley and Ehrlich spent Monday and Tuesday at the Last Vegas shopping center conference. Officials said it cost about $50,000 for the city delegation to attend. The administration said it would use private investment to reimburse the city for some of the taxpayer expense but could not say exactly how much will be used.

Mayoral aides have been largely unclear about O'Malley's location since Tuesday. According to the weekly calendar distributed by his office, the mayor had "no public schedule" yesterday.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Doug Donovan contributed to this article.

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