Democrat Ken Ulman raised nearly double the campaign cash collected by Republican Christopher J. Merdon this year, as both battle to become Howard County's next executive.
In campaign finance reports prepared for filing yesterday, both County Council members reported totals that far exceeded what was raised by outgoing County Executive James N. Robey in his last two campaigns. Ulman already has accumulated more money than Robey spent in both of those efforts combined.
Ulman reported raising $364,427 to Merdon's $186,181 from Jan. 13 through Aug. 8. That gives Ulman a total of $575,000 raised so far, compared with Merdon's $449,445. Ulman also had $413,495 in cash on hand, compared with Merdon's $304,402 - a 25 percent advantage.
Most of the money came to both candidates from big contributors, including developers, lawyers and business owners, the reports show, with 96 contributions of $1,000 or more for Merdon, and 143 in that category for Ulman. Ulman also raised significant amounts from people outside Howard County, including $500 from singer Sheryl Crow, who knows Doug Ulman, the candidate's brother, through his work with the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
In contrast, independent executive candidate C. Stephen Wallis reported raising $14,655, including a $12,000 loan from himself, with only $3,750 cash left on hand. Wallis got confirmation yesterday that he had collected enough valid voters signatures on petitions to be on the November ballot, according to Betty Nordaas, county elections board administrator.
"I happen to think that's an unfortunate commentary," Wallis said about the large amounts raised by Merdon and Ulman. "It really ought to be about qualifications and experience," he said, vowing to get more volunteers and to spread his name by word of mouth.
Harry M. Dunbar, another Democrat in the race, did not have a report available for viewing and did not respond to phone calls.
Merdon, who represents Ellicott City and Elkridge and is council chairman this year, said, "We're on target. I feel very comfortable," despite Ulman's cash advantage.
"I don't think it matters. He obviously has two elections to win. We have one," Merdon said, referring to the Democratic primary between Ulman and Dunbar.
Merdon adviser Steven H. Adler, the GOP's 2002 executive candidate, noted that the person with the most money doesn't always win, as in Robey's 1998 campaign when Dennis R. Schrader had more money but lost.
While Ulman has more money, Merdon has been more aggressive with early advertising, both in print and on cable television, though Ulman said that will soon change. Merdon reported spending $20,000 for Comcast cable television ads, and $12,000 on a poll.
Yesterday, Merdon said he wanted to get his message out before people are bombarded with mailings and phone calls in October. "It does become confusing for voters at the end," he said.
Ulman spent more than $30,000 for a Florida-based national campaign consulting firm named Hamilton Beattie and Staff.
"We're going to start communicating our message when the campaign gets into full swing," Ulman said. "We felt it was too early." He would not reveal specific campaign plans.
The fundraising is far from over. Ulman has two events planned in coming weeks, both at private homes. One is for $10 a ticket, but the other in September will sell tickets for up to $1,000 each.
If Ulman beats Dunbar in the Democratic primary, he and Merdon both would have to acquaint voters outside their respective council districts with their names, and their messages.
Although Howard is a small county in which candidates typically spend money mainly on mailings and signs, University of Maryland, Baltimore County political science professor Donald F. Norris said money can make a difference in a tight race.
"I would imagine that if you ask the average Howard resident to name the five County Councilmen, they couldn't do it," he said, something money can help remedy.
Herbert S. Smith, a political science professor at McDaniel College, said money spent for offices and staff pay doesn't help as much as direct advertising.
"There are three important things - voter contact, voter contact and voter contact," Smith said.
Money can also mean support, said Matthew Crenson, a political science professor at the Johns Hopkins University.
"Most people who contribute to campaigns are investors. ... Investors choose [candidates] not just because they like them, but because they think they're going to win," he said.
The amounts raised by Ulman and Merdon dwarf the contributions reported by those seeking other offices, though not all the reports were available yesterday.
Republican state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader said she has raised over $200,000 for her re-election bid and has $131,890 still on hand.
"At this point in the statewide race, so many people are tapped out," she said.
Robey, a Democrat who is running for Schrader's Senate seat this year, reported raising $133,173, with $107,458 left, though he hopes to get up to $250,000 eventually, he said.
"I hope it will buy me a competitive race," Robey said, though he wondered how many political ads are overkill - making people tune out instead of listen. "I'm sick of the gubernatorial ads already."
Ulman had another view.
"People say that, but they remember it," he said.