Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. collected twice as many campaign donations in the past eight months as Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, but O'Malley has $4.5 million more in the bank for their expected rematch in November.
The gubernatorial front-runners raised about the same amount of money since the beginning of the year, with O'Malley benefiting from larger checks from fewer donors. O'Malley started the race with about $5.7 million in the bank; Ehrlich had about $140,000.
Their campaign finance filings were made public Wednesday. Some observers were struck by the influx of lower-dollar donors to the Ehrlich campaign — checks to him averaged $169, as compared to about $342 for O'Malley — saying the disparity could show that he's reaching some of this year's angry voters.
"Maybe he is tapping into a lot of discontent," said Melissa Deckman, a political science professor at Washington College in Chestertown. She said smaller contributions are generally staples of Democratic campaigns. "It is a pretty interesting result."
University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said O'Malley's significant cash advantage means he's still better positioned.
"It's always better to have more, smaller donors than fewer, big donors," he said. "Now, is having a larger pool of smaller donors more important than having a 3-to-1 cash advantage? Not a chance."
The information comes from campaign contribution and spending reports for the period that ended a week ago. The documents for the two campaigns, each more than a thousand pages, showed:
• O'Malley raised slightly more money since January, taking in $3,318,427 versus Ehrlich's $3,176,864.
• Out-of-state donors favored O'Malley, who drew $600,000 from beyond Maryland's borders to Ehrlich's $351,827.
• With television ads running since July, O'Malley burned through $2.3 million, while Ehrlich, who has not aired any ads, spent $1.2 million, much of it on salaries.
An Ehrlich spokesman said the former governor is "humbled" by the number of donors.
"This is a campaign fueled by everyday families and small businesses who have grave concerns about the direction of our state," spokesman Henry Fawell said.
He said that Ehrlich is not worried about having less money in the bank, saying the campaign is meeting its fundraising targets. The campaign has focused on a heavy Internet presence and small house parties.
The O'Malley camp stressed the governor's bottom-line advantage, with a deputy campaign manager saying their "sustained" program of reaching out to donors led to a "significant cash balance."
O'Malley and Ehrlich had nearly the same number of donations since 2007, Deputy Campaign Manager Rick Abbruzzese said. O'Malley has held high-dollar fundraisers, including one featuring Vice President Joe Biden and another at Silo Point featuring Ravens players and R&B star Mario Dewar Barrett.
Underdog Republican challenger Brian Murphy reported raising about $211,000 — about half of which the former commodities trader loaned to his campaign. A surprise endorsement this month by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin drew plenty of news attention, but it doesn't appear to have generated much of a financial bump. He spent about $169,000, leaving him with about $41,000 in the bank.
The reports include details of individual donors. For example, businessmen associated with the state's nascent slot-machine gambling program — which voters approved under O'Malley's watch — contributed tens of thousands to the governor's campaign.
William Rickman, who plans to open a slot parlor at his racetrack near Ocean City this year, and his affiliates gave more than $21,000 in June.
Many of the entries on the campaign finance report are attributed to Rickman personally, suggesting a donations limit violation, but O'Malley's campaign manager said the report is erroneous and will be corrected to reflect the various limited-liability corporations through which Rickman made the contributions.
Penn National Gaming, which is scheduled to open the state's first slots facility next month in Perryville, contributed $4,000. And Michael Cryor, a longtime O'Malley friend who headed the Maryland Democratic Party and was a partner in the troubled Baltimore casino group, gave $4,000.
It does not appear that David Cordish or his affiliates gave to either campaign, though he hired Ehrlich's law firm last year to assist with a bid to open a casino near Arundel Mills mall.
Ehrlich didn't appear to get nearly as much from big casino interests. Donald Norris, chairman of the public policy department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said the gambling interests were lining up behind the incumbent: "The gaming industry is betting heavily on the favorite, that would be my best guess."