O'Malley solicits council for funds

Critics question ethics, detect sign of desperation

Maryland votes 2006

October 03, 2006|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,Sun reporter

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley is turning to a familiar friend, the Baltimore City Council, to help him in his attempt to unseat his longtime foe, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

O'Malley campaign officials have asked several council members to donate to the mayor's bid for governor, requesting some to give the maximum - $6,000 - that one candidate's account can transfer to another.

Most of the Democratic council members see the pitch as a routine request from their party's top candidate - though few, if any, gave money to the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in 2002. But Republicans see it as a sign that O'Malley is struggling to raise money from average Maryland residents and they question the ethics of the fundraising.

"It would be along the same lines of the governor asking members of the Republican caucus in the Maryland General Assembly for a donation, which he has not done," Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver said.

O'Malley campaign aides said the mayor is simply harnessing the resources of a state Democratic Party that is unified behind his bid to regain the governor's mansion, which Ehrlich returned to GOP control in 2002 for the first time in more than 30 years.

"The campaign needs money. I'm sure they're going to be calling on all Democrats sitting in office," said Councilwoman Helen L. Holton, who got her call from the O'Malley camp on Monday. "Ehrlich is sitting with a war chest."

The battle for Annapolis between Ehrlich and O'Malley is expected to far exceed the record sum spent on the gubernatorial campaign four years ago. In August, Ehrlich reported having $8.5 million in the bank, compared with $4.4 million for O'Malley.

"I gave the max," said Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., a vice president of the Maryland Democratic Party. "It's the right thing to do. The mayor's my friend."

Mitchell said he believes the O'Malley campaign has called all council members.

In addition to Holton and Mitchell, Council Vice President Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake and council members Edward L. Reisinger, Kenneth N. Harris Sr., and James B. Kraft all said they had received calls from the campaign. Rawlings Blake and Reisinger said they planned to give $6,000, while Kraft said he would donate $4,000.

Holton said she has not decided on how much she would give. Harris said he was not planning on donating.

"I didn't take it serious," said Harris, who was called last week. "I would have thought if the mayor wanted me to give to his campaign he would have called me personally and not assign a staff member to call."

Council President Sheila Dixon and other council members - Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, Bernard C. "Jack" Young, Agnes Welch, Paula Johnson Branch and Mary Pat Clarke - said they had not been asked to donate. "If they checked my account they'd know I don't have $6,000 to give," Clarke said.

Young said he gave already.

Welch said she said it "sounds unusual" for a gubernatorial candidate to be asking council members for money. She said typically they would be asked for in-kind contributions of volunteers.

Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., a Democratic ally of Ehrlich, said he was not asked but that he agreed with Welch's assessment. D'Adamo said he has given about $1,200 to Ehrlich over the past four years but that the incumbent has not asked him for a donation the way O'Malley's campaign has asked council members.

"It's a sign that [O'Malley] is having a hard time raising money in Maryland," D'Adamo said. "I was the only council member the mayor didn't give money to. I'm glad because I don't owe him anything."

O'Malley was the biggest donor for most of the current council members when they ran in the city's 2003 Democratic primary election. During that campaign, the mayor pumped $57,000 into the coffers of 10 victorious incumbent council members. He also gave $13,000 to the campaigns of four losing candidates, two of whom were incumbents.

In one council race in 2003, O'Malley split his contributions between two incumbents competing for the same seat, giving $3,000 each to Holton and Melvin L. Stukes. Holton defeated Stukes.

The other victorious incumbent candidates who benefited from O'Malley money were Dixon, Rawlings Blake, Branch, Robert W. Curran, Harris, Mitchell, Reisinger, Young and Welch.

Mitchell said the mayor is likely to raise money from Democratic officeholders from across the state as part of the state party's coordinated campaign effort.

"The Republicans are going to be well-heeled financially. So Democrats have to do everything we can to match them," Mitchell said.

O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said: "The Democratic Party and candidates are united in their desire to take back the governor's office and get the state moving again."

Audra Miller, spokeswoman for the Maryland Republican Party, said O'Malley's request for cash from council members and his efforts to raise money outside of Maryland show that the mayor's campaign is not resonating with average state residents.

"So he has to go out of state and use heavy-handed tactics with elected officials in Baltimore city who have rubber-stamped the majority of his failed agenda," Miller said.

O'Malley, who has traveled to Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta for fundraisers, collected nearly $1 million outside of Maryland, according to his campaign finance report in August, or just under a third of his total. Ehrlich has relied far less on out-of-state money, raising $375,000 from outside of Maryland.

Democrats have also criticized Ehrlich for taking money from a federal account set up by the state GOP to pay for daily campaign expenses.

Miller said Ehrlich has received money from local Republican central committees not because the governor has had to solicit it but because they willingly donated the money.

"They've given," Miller said. "I don't believe [Ehrlich] has hit them up."

doug.donovan@baltsun.com

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