Money pours in for O'Malley

Contributions up to $1.7 million since November win

January 19, 2007|By Jennifer Skalka | Jennifer Skalka,Sun reporter

To the victor goes the cash.

Martin O'Malley and running mate Anthony G. Brown raised about $1.7 million in the two months since their win, enabling them to repay a $500,000 loan that kept their campaign afloat in its last days.

Their latest fundraising prowess - they collected more than 2 1/2 times the amount raised by their predecessors during the same period four years ago - helps build a re-election coffer for the 2010 race. But the exercise also allows individuals with potential state business to curry favor with the new governor, watchdog groups say.

"Unfortunately this is the game," said Mary Boyle, press secretary for the national office of Common Cause. "This is how it's played. New governor, plenty of people anxious to cozy up to him and buy access and influence, and that's exactly what you're seeing. But I would like to stress it's the system. ... And it's not unique to Maryland."

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the state's first Republican governor in three decades, and his lieutenant governor, Michael S. Steele, collected $650,000 between November 2002 and January 2003, according to the state Board of Elections

O'Malley's staff yesterday released summary information for the recent period between Nov. 22 and Jan. 10. The $1.7 million figure includes donations to three committees: O'Malley's longtime campaign committee, a joint committee for the O'Malley/Brown team, and one that promoted Brown's lieutenant governor bid separately.

One reason for the fundraising frenzy is that state lawmakers, including the governor and lieutenant governor, are prohibited from collecting donations during the 90-day General Assembly session.

The reports indicate that a $500,000 loan from John P. Coale, a Washington lawyer and the husband of Fox News personality Greta Van Susteren, has been repaid with interest. Reached yesterday by phone, Coale said he has not received a check but that he heard it's in the mail.

O'Malley's cash was raised in several ways, including during several high-dollar, smaller events. In one case, the O'Malley campaign said it had dissuaded a would-be contributor, Daniel I. Colton, a Prince George's County developer, from writing a check at a Jan. 8 event he co-hosted.

Melissa Koenigsberg, O'Malley's campaign finance director, said that a "vetting error" caused the campaign - for a time - to miss Colton's past. He served three years in a low security North Carolina prison for bank fraud and conspiracy to defraud the United States before being released in May 2004, according to a spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

"We vetted thousands of donors over the past year, and we're pretty meticulous about it," Koenigsberg said. "Unfortunately, in this case we missed Mr. Colton's history."

He was listed on the invitation and attended the event, a $2,500- a-ticket affair at the Country Club at Woodmore in Mitchellville.

During his campaign against Ehrlich, O'Malley railed against a culture in Annapolis that he said provided undue influence to corrupt lobbyists. He signed a pledge vowing not do business with felons, a promise specifically targeted at two of Ehrlich's biggest supporters, lobbyists Bruce C. Bereano and Gerard E. Evans. Bereano was convicted in 1995 of mail fraud. Evans was convicted of fraud in 2000.

Colton is not a lobbyist, but he acknowledged acting as an adviser to the Greenbelt Metro Station project, which includes an interchange at Interstates 495 and 95. The project has received millions of dollars in state funding.

Colton, whose Greenbelt business is called GB Development Companies, said he met O'Malley for the first time at the fundraiser. "I'm sorry if this is going to cause pain for this governor," he said yesterday in a phone interview.jennifer.skalka@baltsun.com

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