Political observers got a first glimpse of the 2014 electoral landscape Jan. 15 as candidates from state and local races filed their first campaign finance reports of 2014.
It's bound to be a transitional year for Howard County politics — newly redrawn districts expand Howard's representation in Annapolis, four politicians from the county's State House delegation are retiring and two current delegates are hoping to move up to positions in the state Senate.
And, as County Executive Ken Ulman sets his sights on a bid to become Maryland's next lieutenant governor, a state senator and County Council member are relinquishing their seats after 2014 to campaign for the job he leaves behind.
A look at their campaign finance reports offers some clues as to their perceived viability by donors — and who those donors are.
In the race for Howard County Executive, County Council member Courtney Watson took the clear financial lead last week, according to campaign finance reports filed by her and opponent Allan Kittleman.
As 2014 begins, Watson has more than twice the amount of cash on hand, with $721,298. Kittleman's campaign announced that the District 9 state senator has $329,495 to spend.
Watson raised $490,236 from supporters in 2013, while Kittleman raised $254,135.
For Watson, just over $300,000 came from business donors. Fourteen business donors hit the upper limit of $4,000 that is allowed for contributions each four-year election cycle: Costello Construction, Definitive Building Inc., Fal Properties, Gold Leaf Group, Guilford I Limited Partnership, Howard Research and Development Corporation, Nadra LLC, Pete's Big TVs, Siena Corporation, Stein Properties, TSC/Pumphouse Road LLC, Upper Cascade LLC, Valley Management Group and Waverly Real Estate Group.
Watson also collected $4,200 in contributions from seven political action committees. Of these, three donated $1,000 or more to her campaign, including $1,000 each from the Home Builders Political Affairs Committee of Howard County and the Howard County Professional Firefighters PAC; and $2,125 from the David S. Brown Enterprises PAC.
Watson also received $27,000 in transfers from political campaigns — supporters include fellow Council members Calvin Ball and Jen Terrasa; retiring state Sen. Jim Robey; Del. Shane Pendergrass and retiring Dels. Steven DeBoy and Jimmy Malone.
While businesses and political organizations pulled much of the fundraising weight for Watson in terms of dollar figures, more than 60 percent of Watson's donors were individuals, many of whom contributed less than $1,000. Watson's campaign said she had donors from every ZIP code in Howard County.
Kittleman's campaign downplayed Watson's financial advantage.
"Fundraising isn't the race we are focused on winning," Kittleman said in a statement Jan. 15. "We're focused on winning the votes of Howard County citizens regardless of party affiliation. We're focused on winning the support of those who want a county executive they can trust; one with a passion for serving all Howard County residents. One who will listen to and work hard for them."
Kittleman also said his fundraising numbers are "ahead of schedule for where we wanted to be at this time."
Just under $120,000 of Kittleman's campaign funds came from business donations.
Eight business donors hit the $4,000 upper limit: Flathead Ventures, Frederick Business District LLC, KHD Enterprises, McCormick Business LLC, Merrit-037 LLC, Overlook Farm, Site Masters and Total Automotive Solutions. Only two of the eight — Overlook Farm and Site Masters — are located within Howard County.
In addition to contributions from individuals and businesses, Kittleman received $2,516.51 in transfer funds from the campaigns of Harford County Executive and GOP gubernatorial candidate David Craig, former Howard County Sen. Sandy Schrader and Anne Arundel County Council member Jerry Walker.
Kittleman also collected $12,925 in contributions from political action committees representing a range of groups. He received $1,000 each from the Home Builders Political Affairs Committee of Howard County and the Transportation Builders and Materials Association PAC of Maryland.
Of Kittleman's PAC gifts, $3,625 came from the energy industry and $3,000 came from the health care industry.
Individuals, many of whom gave less than $500, made up more than 70 percent of Kittleman's donor base.
According to Paul Herrnson, executive director of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut and a former political science professor at the University of Maryland who followed the General Assembly for many years, candidates run two campaigns — one for votes and the other for money and resources.
Though money isn't everything — other factors, such as demographics, also play into political scientists' election predictions — it can be an indicator of political strength, Herrnson said.
"You cannot win the campaign for voters with an unsuccessful campaign for resources," he said.
As candidates for local office, both Watson and Kittleman can continue to collect campaign contributions throughout the General Assembly's 90-day legislative session.