As many Marylanders are busy preparing for the holidays, the state's politicians are scurrying to raise money for an election next summer.
The political calendar is chock full of breakfasts, luncheons and evening receptions geared toward gathering as much in donations as possible by January, when many candidates are barred from fundraising during the 90-day General Assembly session.
"I bought a set of roller skates to get me around from one fundraiser to the other," joked longtime Annapolis lobbyist Bruce Bereano, who attends as many as he can.
The pace is usually brisk this time of year, but it's even more frenzied because Maryland's 2014 primary election is early — in June rather than the traditional September.
"There is a sense of urgency to get it done now," said Bruce Plaxen, who chairs the state trial lawyers' political action committee.
The fundraising push is driven by the high cost of running campaigns in Maryland. Some candidates for governor have estimated that they will spend at least $10 million on the primary alone. Competing in a state Senate primary can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and even a House of Delegates race can reach into the high tens of thousands.
On Wednesday, there was an evening reception for House Speaker Michael E. Busch and state Sen. John Astle of Anne Arundel, a breakfast for Democrat Jon Cardin's race for Maryland attorney general, a cocktail hour for Nic Kipke, the Republican leader in the House of Delegates; a cocktail event for House Majority Whip Keith Haynes; and a movie screening benefiting state Sen. Bill Ferguson of Baltimore.
On Thursday, all three Democrats running for governor — Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, state Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Del. Heather R. Mizeur of Montgomery County — hosted evening events. Mizeur's was a Takoma Park house party celebrating her 41st birthday. Gansler's included two Major League Lacrosse stars, reflecting his lifelong passion for the sport. Brown schmoozed with young professionals in an Irish bar in Washington.
"It's harder to raise money when you have a high-profile gubernatorial race," said Anne Arundel County Councilman Jamie Benoit, who hosted the small fundraiser for Democrats Busch and Astle, where tickets ranged from $250 to $2,000. The gubernatorial candidates "are working overtime, and you're hitting a lot of the same people that they're calling."
At Brown's gathering in Washington, about 100 invited guests paid $25 to $250 to enjoy drinks and appetizers after work. The candidate arrived about 7:30 p.m. to give brief remarks and chat with a largely 30-something group of donors. The tie-free Brown stayed a little more than half an hour, nursing a beer that appeared to be more regular-guy prop than thirst quencher.
Gordon Linton, a former Clinton administration official and Pennsylvania legislator, paid $250 to attend. A veteran of many political fundraisers, he said he was impressed with Brown's.
"These are the people we get excited, get engaged," he said. "You've got to have a lot of these as well as the big-ticket events."
In the governor's race, the candidates are carving out time to dial for dollars nearly every day.
Gansler "does an awful lot of it at night at home," spokesman Bob Wheelock said.
Brown and his running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, have been hosting five to 12 fundraisers a week, said campaign manager Justin Schall. And in between, the lieutenant governor is working the phones.
"He spends almost every free minute when he's not doing his job" making those phone calls, Schall said. "It's a hard balancing act."
When the General Assembly session begins in January, fundraising goes on hold until April for legislators and those who hold statewide office — with one exception. Even though she is a state delegate, Mizeur will be able to raise contributions of up to $250 from individuals because she is accepting public financing for her run for governor. The state fund will match qualifying donations up to a total of $1.25 million.
On Jan. 15, candidates must file campaign finance reports listing their contributions for the past year — a public disclosure that enables them to show their fundraising prowess.
It's not just for bragging rights. In a competitive race, a big campaign account can encourage other donors to back what looks like a winning cause.