The recession has cut into virtually every financial endeavor, but will it affect political fundraising, too?
The sagging economy failed to thwart contributions to local elected officials last year, at least according to the annual campaign finance reports that were due Jan. 21. The data show that some are flush with cash, while others cling to Howard's older, low-budget traditions.
FOR THE RECORD - In the Howard County section on Feb. 1, an article on annual campaign finance reports included incorrect totals for Del. Gail H. Bates. The legislator raised $13,200, spent $7,574, and, together with leftover funds, has a balance of $20,525.97. Bates also will benefit from a Ladies in Leadership joint account that reported a $7,098 balance.
In the same article, candidate Jon Weinstein's name was misspelled.
The Baltimore Sun regrets the errors.
County Executive Ken Ulman, a Democrat, has raised roughly $250,000 each of his first two years in office. His expenses are high, too, and his latest report shows $97,613 spent and $303,609 left. If his current pace continues through next year's election, he will have far exceeded his total raised over the past four-year cycle leading up to the last election, when Ulman raised $785,848. His sizable financial head start is also likely to discourage some would-be challengers to his expected re-election bid.
"We're on target for where we'd like to be," Ulman said.
The recession will make it harder to ask people for support, he said, but he'll continue with the trend of raising money each year, not just during an election year. His next fundraiser is scheduled for March 19 in Clarksville.
No GOP challenger has come forward yet, but state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman said Ulman's funds won't deter Republicans. He pointed out that Ulman and his 2006 Republican opponent, Christopher J. Merdon, raised significant amounts.
"I'm very optimistic," Kittleman said of GOP prospects of mounting a formidable challenge despite the recession.
Kittleman said he has no plans to take on Ulman but suggested that a candidate could run on a fiscal responsibility platform by criticizing the growth in government spending.Ulman's report showed 96 contributions of $1,000 or more, including four donations of $4,000, totaling $148,400. Many big donors are connected to the development industry. The executive got an unusual $500 contribution from Merdon's remaining campaign funds. The former councilman, whom Ulman appointed to serve on the Howard County Revenue Authority, said Ulman has "kept the door open to me." Merdon said he has no plans to seek public office.
It's quite possible that donations from the development industry may not be affected by the recession, said Donald F. Norris, chairman of the Department of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
"People make contributions to gain influence," he said, and that desire doesn't change along with the economy.
Ulman was still paying a few outstanding campaign debts, as evidenced by a $15,000 payment to his former campaign manager, Arthur E. McGreevy. Now in private legal practice in Baltimore, McGreevy left his job as an assistant county solicitor in March. The payment, he said, is the final installment of his $25,000 campaign "win bonus."
James N. Robey, a Democrat and former county executive who is now a state senator, said he finds it hard to ask for money in such bad times. His report showed just $26,565 on hand, and that he still owes himself $45,000 that he lent his campaign in the last election. Robey knows he'll need more for a re-election effort, but he's been reluctant to ask, he said.
"I can't ask people who are losing their jobs to give to a political campaign," Robey said.
After Ulman, Del. Guy Guzzone appears to have the next-highest campaign kitty, with $40,581 raised in 2008 and $94,676 left on hand. In addition, Guzzone will benefit from the $38,108 reported in the "Team 13" account, which spends money jointly for him and fellow Democratic delegates Shane Pendergrass and Frank Turner, and Robey.
"I have one fundraiser a year. It's $35. People come," Guzzone said, explaining his success.
At the other extreme of the fundraising spectrum is County Council Chairwoman Mary Kay Sigaty, a Democrat who represents West Columbia and Fulton, Ulman's old council district.
She reported raising no money over the past year and had $3,844.75 on hand - the least of any elected county official.
That's in keeping with Sigaty's traditional approach in previous campaigns in a district with a core of politically aware voters. She has typically raised little cash until the election year.
"I didn't think I needed to ask people to finance a campaign until it was time to run one," she said.
County Republicans raised amounts typical for Howard County.
Kittleman raised $52,274 and has $44,588 left on hand. He got very generous gifts from the extended Rensin family, four of whom gave a combined $10,500 in cash and food for campaign events. Howard Rensin is a former county GOP chairman.
Delegates Gail H. Bates and Warren E. Miller also have a team account, plus individual funds.
Miller reported raising $17,876 and had $12,924 on hand. Bates showed $8,595 in receipts with $7,098 left. Their joint account added $14,637, with $7,836 left.
One Democratic challenger in their western county/Ellicott City district, John Weinstein, reported raising $3,666 and having $2,953 left.