Amid growing speculation about Hillary Clinton's presidential ambitions, Gov. Martin O'Malley managed to ramp up his national political fundraising last year as he weighed whether to seek the Democratic Party nomination, according to a pair of campaign finance reports made public Friday.
O'Malley, whose second term will end next January, raised $1.7 million through two political action committees in 2013 and had more than $740,000 in the bank.
More than 70 percent of that money came in the second half of the year.
O'Malley's fundraising is minuscule compared to what he will need if he ultimately decides to run. But observers say the governor has made the right early moves by building a network of donors, reaching out to Democrats in early primary states, and pushing for policies in Annapolis, such as the proposed increase in the state's minimum wage, that are likely to appeal to Democratic primary voters.
"He is certainly doing an excellent job developing relationships in not just New Hampshire but other states as well," said Raymond Buckley, the Democratic Party chairman in New Hampshire. "Whether he chooses to run in this cycle or some other cycle, those sorts of relationships will pay off."
The governor traveled extensively last year, headlining a major fundraising dinner for the New Hampshire Democratic Party in November, for instance, and campaigning for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's Democratic opponent in the November election. He also made his third trip to Israel.
But his administration has been beset by a series of problems in the past year, including a federal investigation into rampant corruption at the Baltimore jail — which is run by the state — and, more recently, the flawed rollout of the state health exchange under the Affordable Care Act. Both of those problems would almost certainly be raised by opponents should an O'Malley campaign gain traction.
Whether he runs could depend largely on Clinton, the former first lady, senator and secretary of state who many believe could capture the nomination without breaking a sweat — if she wanted it. Clinton held a 6 to 1 lead over other Democrats in a Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week.
Clinton hasn't said whether she will run, but a coterie of former aides and allies have been laying the groundwork for her campaign nonetheless.
O'Malley backed Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary that was ultimately won by Barack Obama. In an appearance Friday on MSNBC, O'Malley was pressed about whether he would jump into the presidential race if Clinton were already in the field.
"I am not ruling out at all the need for us to offer better ideas so we can find a better way forward for our country," he said.
O'Malley raised $472,649 in the second half of 2013 through a federal political action committee, the O' Say Can You See PAC, that can be used to support candidates for the White House or Congress. He raised an additional $719,627 in a soft-money account that can be used for voter mobilization and certain types of political advertising, but not expressly to support federal candidates.
The majority of O'Malley's donors came from Maryland, but the reports show the governor is also using the federal portion of the money to make donations to candidates in important primary states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Aides note that the governor helps raise a significant amount of money for the party and Democratic candidates beyond what is reflected in his own account. O'Malley is the finance chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, which raised $28 million last year.
Earlier in January, O'Malley reported raising $19,500 last year through a state political action committee he is using mostly to support Democratic candidates for the Maryland General Assembly.