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With session over, it's fundraising season

With the season for legislating over in Maryland as of last Monday, the season for raising cash for campaigns has begun.

For the next nine months, until the General Assembly convenes in Annapolis Jan. 8, candidates for the legislature, governorship and other statewide offices will be making an all-out push to fill their campaign chests before next year's session puts a damper on such activity. Lawmakers and statewide officials are forbidden by law to raise money during the annual 90-day session.

The scramble for cash will be especially frantic because of a compressed election schedule in which the 2014 primary — an election that used to be held in September — will be June 24. That's just 21/2 months after the Assembly adjourns.

Running for office in Maryland doesn't come cheap. It can cost more than $100,000 to wage a competitive race for the House of Delegates. In one particularly close state Senate race in 2010, the Democratic winner and Republican loser spent a combined $700,000. Lawmakers may feel a need to spend more running in newly drawn legislative districts.

Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a Baltimore Democrat, has been able to take it easy on fundraising during the past two elections, when she avoided a serious primary challenge. But this year, anticipating an opponent will file against her, she's already dialing for dollars and planning a fundraiser for May 15.

"I'm calling my friends and calling for family and asking their help," said Gladden, a three-term senator who is determined to hold on to her Northwest Baltimore seat.

"Do I like to raise money? No. I hate it. But you've just got to do it."

Gladden wasn't the fastest out of the gate, however. That distinction may go to Del. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, who sent out an e-mail invitation on Tuesday — less than 24 hours after the session ended — to an April 25 event. She's raising money for her planned Democratic primary challenge to incumbent Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell in the redrawn 44th District.

Nathan-Pulliam said she figures she'd better raise the money this year.

"When you get out of session, there's only going to be two months before the primary," the delegate said. She's planning a series of small, home-based affairs during the spring as well as another big one in October.

Jones-Rodwell, for her part, has an event planned for June 27.

Activity will be no less frantic on the Republican side, where GOP money-raiser Hillary Pennington of Strategic Victory Consulting in Catonsville is urging her clients not to dawdle.

"The game's getting more and more competitive. It costs more and more money to win a race," Pennington said. "You need to be raising money. That's the first thing you need to do."

Pennington said that's especially true for Republicans running in strongly Democratic Maryland. But she said GOP candidates who move fast will find a donor base fired up by the results of the recent session, in which the Democratic-led legislature passed a gun control bill, death penalty repeal and other measures characterized as liberal-leaning.

Typically, lawmakers have taken some time in late April to catch their breath after the session, with fundraising peaking in May and June before a summertime lull. This year, said Pennington, the cash scramble is off to an early start.

"April's turning out to be a fairly big month," she said.

Colleen Martin-Lauer, one of the state's top Democratic fundraisers, expects an especially busy fall that will extend right up the start of the next session. She said the challenge will be to energize contributors who might be used to waiting until the election year itself.

"Donors are still used to having a two-year window," she said. "You don't have a two-year window this time."

Among Martin-Lauer's clients is Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who is expected to announce his candidacy to succeed the term-limited Gov. Martin O'Malley on May 10.

Brown will be looking to close the money gap with Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, another prospective candidate for governor, who carried over about $3 million from his uncontested 2010 re-election campaign.

A third possible Democratic candidate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, isn't covered by the fundraising ban because he doesn't hold a statewide or legislative office.

Similarly, none of the expected Republican candidates for governor, including Harford County Executive David R. Craig and Frederick County Commission President Blaine Young, is covered by the ban on raising money during the session.

Young , who held a fundraiser Wednesday night at a Washington restaurant, said he's waiting to see if former Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele or 2012 U.S. Senate nominee Dan Bongino get into the race.

"The last thing we need to do in a primary is eat our own, when the real challenge is to take on the big Democrats," Young said. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in Maryland by more than two to one.

Being able to raise money during the session isn't expected to give Republican gubernatorial contenders any advantage over the Democrats who can't.

Both parties are expected to see hotly contested primaries for governor before the general election. So all of the candidates can be expected to empty their campaign coffers in the primary — leaving the winners to rush to refill them between June and November.

It's difficult to predict what it will cost to run for governor of Maryland in 2014. The 2006 contest between O'Malley and then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. cost a record $35 million. Their 2010 rematch came in at a comparatively paltry $17 million.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

ecox@baltsun.com

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