Chasing cash, trading barbs

Candidates seek money outside Md. and find a stigma

Maryland Votes 2006

August 13, 2006|By JOHN FRITZE AND DOUG DONOVAN | JOHN FRITZE AND DOUG DONOVAN,SUN REPORTERS

From a glitzy hotel on the Avenue of the Stars in Los Angeles to a venerable sports club in downtown Chicago, Mayor Martin O'Malley has dashed across the country in recent weeks seeking campaign cash for what is expected to be Maryland's most expensive governor's race ever.

Though he criticizes Republican opponent Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for raising funds from President George Bush's "money machine," O'Malley, a Democrat, is aggressively courting his own national donors from New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Miami and elsewhere. He heads to Atlanta this month for an event hosted by Georgia politicians.

Ehrlich might not be leaving as often in search of money, but that's partially because such GOP luminaries as Bush, first lady Laura Bush and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani are coming to him.

Neither campaign likes to boast about its out-of-state donations. Each takes pains not to disclose when and where the candidates are traveling and with whom they are meeting.

Indeed, Ehrlich and O'Malley have tried to stigmatize the money and help that the other gets from beyond Maryland, each bragging that his own financial backing is mostly home-grown and indicative of broad grass-roots appeal. Yet in a race expected to be close, and expensive, neither side can afford to turn down money - especially O'Malley, who trails in fundraising.

Collecting that money in person opens each leader to criticism that he is ignoring his governmental responsibilities and losing touch with voters, however. O'Malley has been particularly vulnerable to attacks whenever he campaigns outside Baltimore.

"People are questioning me about how much attention the mayor has been paying to issues important to the city, like illegal arrests," said Baltimore City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. "I haven't seen the mayor."

Exactly where O'Malley and Ehrlich have been and how much they have gathered in this year's gubernatorial campaign will become clearer when the candidates file their financial disclosure reports with the state Board of Elections on Tuesday.

The report will also likely provide fodder for both campaigns to associate each other with certain donors who they believe are not representative of Marylanders' interests, experts said.

"The candidates will both be suggesting that outside interests are going to be controlling Maryland politics, instead of Marylanders controlling state politics," said James G. Gimpel, professor of government at the University of Maryland, who co-authored a paper on the topic, "The Political Geography of Campaign Contributions in American Politics."

In e-mails to supporters and during stump speeches, the O'Malley campaign has characterized Ehrlich's financial success as the result of an elite Republican network that starts with President Bush. The mayor tries to peg the incumbent as beholden to corporate interests.

O'Malley points to a GOP fundraiser in May that Bush and Ehrlich attended. Republican officials said the event brought in $1 million for the state party. Last month, Giuliani appeared at a $4,000-a-couple fundraiser for Ehrlich at the Intercontinental Harbor Court Hotel. Last year, Laura Bush helped Ehrlich raise $250,000 in Bethesda.

"We have traveled out of state and possibly still may in order to raise the money that we need to raise in order to compete with George Bush, Bob Ehrlich and the Republication National Committee and their money machine," O'Malley said recently when asked about his out-of-state fundraisers.

Ehrlich's campaign counters that it received significantly less out-of-state money than O'Malley did last year.

In an Aug. 7 e-mail to Ehrlich supporters, the governor's campaign finance chairman, Dick Hug, wrote: "While Martin O'Malley was flying around the country raising money from the Hollywood elite, the Governor was here in Maryland hard at work trying to fix O'Malley's failing school system."

Ehrlich uses a different strategy to build his financial advantage over the mayor: The governor attends low-overhead fundraising events in private homes throughout Maryland on many nights, speaking to small groups and gathering big checks.

Ehrlich campaign spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver said that the governor has made only three fundraising visits outside the state in the past six months: a May trip to Las Vegas that included attending a shopping center convention; a June event in Virginia; and a Washington, D.C., fundraiser in July.

"With regard to fundraising, this is a Maryland race, our primary focus is on Maryland money and the support of Maryland-based citizens," DeLeaver said.

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