Presidential candidates strike it rich in Maryland

State ranks 11th in campaign donations

August 05, 2007|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,Sun reporter

WASHINGTON -- Maryland is fertile territory for presidential candidates in need of cash for the costliest presidential campaign ever, with lawyers, business leaders and political activists delivering sums out of proportion to the state's size.

Marylanders gave a combined $6 million to presidential candidates through June, federal elections records show. Just 19th in population, Maryland ranks 11th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in donations to presidential candidates.

The major parties' leaders in Maryland: Hillary Rodham Clinton, who eclipsed her Democratic rivals, and Mitt Romney, who received the most among Republicans.

"It's not a swing state, but it is a money state," said Matthew Crenson, professor emeritus of political science at the Johns Hopkins University. "In a sense, what Marylanders are doing is financing Clinton's efforts in states other than Maryland."

Maryland's outsized prominence in the money chase comes mainly from the lobbyists, political operatives, and business and financial executives who work in Washington and reside in the prosperous Montgomery County neighborhoods of Potomac, Bethesda and Chevy Chase.

But the leading '08 contenders also collected significant amounts from the Baltimore region, with smaller takes from the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland. The totals reflect accelerated and aggressive fundraising by a crowded field seeking advantage in a wide-open contest that some estimate could cost $1 billion before it ends more than a year from now.

Nearly eight of every 10 Maryland dollars went to Democrats, with Clinton, the New York senator, collecting $2 million, followed by Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, who raised $1.7 million.

Among Republicans, Romney received $499,000. Rudolph W. Giuliani, who has the active support of the state's most prominent Republican, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., took in $457,000.

Nationwide, candidates had amassed about $295 million in donations and transfers from other accounts over the first half of the year, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. Democrats gathered $178 million, and Republicans received $117 million.

Top donor states are New York and California (about $37 million each), followed by Texas ($14.4 million), Florida ($13 million) and Illinois ($12 million).

In the days leading up to the June 30 filing deadline, candidates called on their supporters to pick up the pace. Clinton swooped into Baltimore County, for example, giving her stump speech to donors who paid at least $1,000 per ticket to dine in her presence at Martin's West in Woodlawn. Other candidates relied on small parties at the homes of prominent business leaders and lawyers.

Clinton's Maryland outreach relies on the extensive connections she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have built and maintained in the Washington region, along with the early endorsement and fundraising assistance of Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Among her donors: Taylor Branch, the Baltimore-based Pulitzer Prize-winning author who is working on a book about the Clinton presidency based on privately recorded White House interviews, and Carol M. Browner, Environmental Protection Agency administrator during the Clinton administration, who lives in Takoma Park.

Clinton's Baltimore-area contributors include Michael Bronfein, a venture capitalist who founded the NeighborCare prescription drug supplier; John C. Erickson, founder and CEO of Catonsville-based Erickson Retirement Communities; Joseph A. De Francis, chief executive of the Maryland Jockey Club; and C. William Struever, president of Struever Bros. Eccles and Rouse developers.

"She's the best person running in both parties right now," said Bronfein, a longtime friend of the Clintons who has scheduled a Sept. 27 fundraiser for Hillary Clinton at his Baltimore County home. "She has really distinguished herself."

In the state, Clinton has outpaced Obama, who is methodically building a Maryland network that crosses racial lines. Last week, his campaign announced a high-powered pair of state co-chairmen: Baltimore Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who is black, and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, who is white.

Obama is receiving fundraising assistance from Josh Rales, the wealthy Montgomery real estate investor and philanthropist who spent more than $5 million of his own money on an unsuccessful campaign for Senate last year.

"Obama is a transcendental black leader of the kind we have been looking for since Martin Luther King," said Baltimore attorney William H. Murphy Jr., He gave the senator $2,300, as did his son, William H. Murphy III.

Obama "not only reflects all of the lessons of the black experience but does not suffer from the limits of seeing himself only as a black leader," the elder Murphy said. "And this is a welcome development for America."

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