Race for cash gets under way

Pricey fundraising events begin this week for crowded slate of mayoral candidates

January 24, 2007|By John Fritze | John Fritze,Sun reporter

Baltimore's mayoral contest has been shaping up for months, but the race for cash is getting under way in earnest this week.

Mayor Sheila Dixon and City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., who will be rivals in this year's mayoral election, are planning fundraising events this week, hoping to get an early start in what is expected to be the city's most crowded race in years and its most costly ever. Next week, at least two more fundraisers are scheduled.

Early fundraising may be critical in a race that some believe could cost the successful candidate more than $2 million. Large events such as the one Dixon has scheduled for today - where the priciest ticket goes for $4,000 - are also a muscle-flexing move designed to scare away potential rivals, experts say.

"There are two kinds of voters: The voters who vote for the people they like and the investors who vote for people who they think can win," said Johns Hopkins political scientist Matthew A. Crenson, adding that the latter group often looks at campaign treasuries as an indication of success.

Dixon's soiree will take place at the Frederick Douglass Isaac Myers Maritime Park Museum in Fells Point. The $4,000 top ticket is the maximum contribution a donor may make to a single candidate in a four-year period. Mitchell's fundraiser, also scheduled for today, will take place at a downtown Mexican restaurant, and tickets will range from $50 to $250.

Del. Jill P. Carter, a Northwest Baltimore Democrat and mayoral candidate, said she will hold a small event next week.

City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr., also rumored to be a candidate for citywide office, will hold a fundraiser tomorrow at the Lyric Opera House, where tickets will cost from $100 to $500.

City Councilman James B. Kraft, who is not expected to make a run for a citywide office this year, scheduled an event for Jan. 30.

"You need money to get your message out," said Harris, who predicted that television will be used heavily this year by candidates for mayor and City Council president.

Candidates who raise the most money do not always win - Gov. Martin O'Malley, for instance, raised less than his opponent, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., last year - but candidates who raise significantly less than others in the field often struggle to keep up.

In 1999, O'Malley and then-City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III raised more than $1 million each. Carl F. Stokes raised nearly $724,500 during the city's primary race and borrowed $30,000 from a close friend.

The race is getting started early this year - partly because Dixon's opponents are trying to undermine her incumbency and define her as a candidate. Crenson said he believes the timing of this week's fundraisers may be a response to Mitchell's candidacy and his close relationship with many downtown business people.

Unlike last year's gubernatorial race, local candidates will disclose their fundraising to the state Board of Elections only twice this year. One disclosure statement was filed last week, before serious fundraising got under way, and the other will be filed Aug. 14, about a month before the Sept. 11 primary.

Christopher Carroll, board president of the watchdog group Common Cause Maryland, noted that the lack of more frequent reporting will make scrutinizing the candidates more difficult.

"Certainly, the purpose of having campaign finance disclosures is thwarted if the information is not disclosed during the period when people are making decisions, and a lot of people are making decisions between now and August," Carroll said.

Dixon, who is serving the remainder of O'Malley's term, has maintained a lead in fundraising with about $284,000 on hand, according to the campaign finance report filed last week. Between Nov. 22 and Jan. 10, the period covered by the report, Dixon raised $1,500 and spent more than $48,000.

Mitchell raised $17,000 during that period, but had only about $32,000 on hand at the last report. Comptroller Joan M. Pratt is the second-best-funded candidate in the race, with more than $140,000 on hand, but she has brought in only about $6,350 in recent weeks.

Through a spokesman, Dixon declined to comment on her fundraising.

Carter, with $1,247 on hand, did not raise any money last month, according to her report. As a delegate, Carter will be required to officially file her candidacy for mayor, otherwise she will be prohibited from raising money during the session, along with other members of the General Assembly.

"Fundraising is extremely important, and you have to raise money to even be perceived as a serious candidate," Carter said. "But I believe that if you are generally for the people and exercising the will of the people, you do not need the most money."

john.fritze@baltsun.com

Calm before the fundraising storm

Candidates, possible candidates and rumored candidates for mayor of Baltimore are planning fundraising events for the next two weeks. Here is a look at how much they raised between Nov. 22 and Jan. 10:

Raised On hand

Mayor Sheila Dixon $1,500 $284,383

Comptroller Joan M. Pratt $6,350 $140,679

Del. Jill P. Carter $0 $1,247

City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. $17,000 $32,546

City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. $0 $99

Andrey Bundley $5,390 $15,156

Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway Sr. $0 $0

Kweisi Mfume $0 $11,417

Source: Maryland State Board of Elections

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