O'Malley outspent Ehrlich by nearly $3 million

Together, main gubernatorial candidates spent about $17 million

November 24, 2010|By Julie Bykowicz, The Baltimore Sun

Maryland's gubernatorial contest cost the two main candidates about $17 million this year, according to campaign finance reports released Wednesday, with winner Gov. Martin O'Malley outspending Republican challenger Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. by nearly $3 million.

Ehrlich spent about $7 million this year in his bid to reclaim the governor's office. In the final few weeks of the campaign, he loaned himself $20,000 and paid $1.6 million for an advertising blitz, his report shows. He lost to O'Malley by 14 percentage points on Election Day, more than twice the margin of defeat from their 2006 battle.

O'Malley's campaign finance reports showed that the governor spent $10 million in his re-election bid this year. A detailed breakdown of O'Malley's contributions and expenses in the month before the election was not available Wednesday.

"That $3 million made a lot of difference," said Donald Norris, head of the public policy department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He said Ehrlich should have been able to raise a larger sum of money, even given Ehrlich's far shorter campaign of just seven months. "To use a cliche, it appears the smart money was on O'Malley."

New reports also show that the battle over zoning for a slots parlor in Anne Arundel County proved costly. The groups supporting and fighting the planned casino at Arundel Mills mall spent at least $10 million on their efforts — though the figure will rise when the anti-slots group releases additional information.

Anne Arundel voters overwhelmingly approved the casino project, though it appears the pro-casino forces were outspent. The most recent reports show that casino developer David Cordish, of the Baltimore-based Cordish Cos., dumped $2.7 million into his campaign account in the last few weeks before the measure went to voters. In total, he spent $4.9 million on his successful campaign.

Updated figures were not available from the opposition group, called No Slots at the Mall, but as of mid-October the group had spent $5.2 million to rally voters against the project.

Final campaign finance reports for all state and local candidates, which covered Oct. 18 to Nov. 16, were due by midnight Tuesday, but only some have been made public because the State Board of Elections closed at 5 p.m. Tuesday and does not reopen until Monday.

O'Malley began the year with almost $5 million in his campaign coffers, compared with Ehrlich's $141,778. Ehrlich's latest report shows he raised $710,417 and spent $2.1 million in the last month of the race, a time during which polls showed O'Malley widening his lead. In that same period, O'Malley raised $860,176 and spent about $1.4 million.

The governor began advertising early, both in the Baltimore and Washington television markets, and with far greater frequency, moves that political observers said gave him an edge.

Todd Eberly, acting director of the Center for the Study of Democracy at St. Mary's College of Maryland, said O'Malley's sizeable advantage at the start of the race "gave him a huge advantage."

"If Ehrlich had gotten into this race sooner, he may have been able to blunt some of O'Malley's incredibly effective advertising campaign," Eberly said. "By the time Ehrlich had enough money to fight back, the tone and the narrative had been set. He made the classic mistake of letting his opponent to define him."

O'Malley steadily ramped up campaign spending over the four-year cycle, which spans January 2007 to the end of this year. He spent about $1 million last year, $102,000 in 2008 and $50,000 in 2007. Reports show that Ehrlich, who has worked in the private sector as a lawyer and radio host since leaving office, spent about $86,000 last year, $67,000 in 2008 and $388,000 in 2007.

In addition to money spent by the candidates, the Democratic Governors Association, of which O'Malley is vice chairman, and the Republican Governors Association each poured about $4 million into the race.

Ehrlich's final report also shows that $14,000 was spent in two payments to campaign operative Julius Henson in the week before the election. Henson, hired by Ehrlich earlier in the election season, ordered up a batch of robocalls to more than 112,000 voters hours before polls closed on Election Day. The message was that O'Malley had already won and that voters should "relax" and watch the results on TV.

Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler filed a civil suit against Henson, alleging that the operative intended to intimidate voters and suppress votes.

In all, Ehrlich appears to have paid Henson about $111,000 this year. During the four-year cycle, many Democrats also used Henson's services. His firms, Universal Elections and Politics Today, took in about $763,525, mostly from Democratic politicians in Baltimore and the Washington suburbs.

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