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Maryland's wealthy dig deep to donate to super PACS

There are big political contributors, and then there are BIG contributors. Count Baltimore trial lawyer and Orioles owner Peter Angelos among the latter.

Angelos has donated at least $1.22 million, mostly to super PACs backing Democrats, according to the latest filings with the Federal Election Commission.

And he's not the only Marylander in this seven-figure club.

J.W. Marriott Jr., executive chairman of Marriott International in Bethesda, gave $1 million to Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Four years ago, such political action committees didn't exist. But two court rulings, including the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial Citizens United decision in 2010, led to the creation of these groups, which can raise unlimited sums from individuals, corporations and unions. Super PACs spend money on advertising and other electoral marketing, but can't coordinate with campaigns.

As of last week, more than $392 million had been raised by super PACs in the 2011-2012 election cycle, with Republican-aligned groups receiving well over twice the amount of those backing Democrats, according to the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit that advocates for government transparency.

The huge disparity reflects the Republican primary battle, which Democrats didn't have to go through, campaign finance experts said. Many Democrats who opposed the Citizens United decision also were slow to embrace super PACS — but that's changing.

"The rationale that prevailed is that if the other guy has a gun, you can't bring a knife to the fight," said Lee Drutman, senior fellow with the Sunlight Foundation. "Super PACS are the gun in this fight."

The vast majority of super PAC money comes from small, privately held companies and wealthy individuals, Drutman said.

That includes Angelos, who gives exclusively to Democrats and groups supporting the Democratic Party. His contributions this election cycle are his highest ever, thanks to the emergence of super PACs, he said.

"We don't want the other side to prevail," Angelos said. "My interest is to attempt to contribute to the Democratic side in such a fashion within my capabilities, and hope that others will do the same."

He has set quite an example. Angelos donated $500,000 to Priorities USA Action, which supports Democrats; $575,000 to Majority PAC, created to help Democrats retain control of the U.S. Senate; and $150,000 to the House Majority PAC, which aims for Democrats to regain the majority in the House.

Angelos said that he recently made another sizable contribution, although he wouldn't say how much.

The best election outcome in Angelo's mind would be for Democrats to carry both chambers of Congress and the White House, providing a united front "to solve the problems of the country, which are very, very substantial."

"The Democratic Party is not perfect by any means," Angelos said, but, he added, in comparison to the Republican Party, Democrats are more committed to protecting "the interests of the average American."

Marriott is on the other side of the political spectrum, giving heavily to the Romney-aligned super PAC. The company's website describes him as an active member of the Mormon Church, to which Romney also belongs. Marriott did not respond to a call for comment.

While the deep pockets of Angelos and Marriott stand out, other Marylanders have written sizable checks, too — although not necessarily to super PACs.

James A. Clark, CEO and chairman of Clark Enterprises, a Bethesda-based construction company, and his wife, Alice, made the Center for Responsive Politics' list of the top 100 individual contributors to candidates, parties and political action committees this election. The couple came in 15th by donating $322,300 to Republicans, the group said. The Clarks declined to comment.

Maurice B. Tose, CEO of TeleCommunications Systems in Annapolis, gave $66,600 to the Obama Victory Fund, $61,600 to the Democratic National Committee, $10,000 to the Democratic State Central Committee of Maryland and $5,000 each to the Swing State Victory Fund and Obama's campaign, according to FEC documents. Tose declined to comment.

And Mayo A Shattuck III, the former head of Constellation Energy Group who oversaw the sale of the Baltimore company to Exelon Corp. this year, donated $30,800 to the Republican National Party and $2,500 each to Romney and Maryland Democrats Sen. Ben Cardin and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

Shattuck is now executive chairman of Exelon, whose employees donated slightly more to Democratic candidates, according to Responsive Politics. The top recipient is Obama, pulling in $116,520 as of last week, with Romney getting $90,450.

A spokesman said Shattuck and other Exelon employees support candidates from both parties.

eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com

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