Candidates for governor in Maryland's June primary spent a record of almost $25 million — paying roughly $35 for every voter who showed up at the polls.
Campaign finance reports filed with the State Board of Elections this week show that the primary's cost exceeded the total spent during the primary and general election four years ago by more than $2 million.
As Democrat Anthony G. Brown continues to raise money apace and Republican Larry Hogan has $2.4 million in public financing, they appear on track to shatter the record $33 million spent on the gubernatorial contest in 2006. One political pundit predicted general election spending this year could reach $40 million.
Donald F. Norris, chair of the public policy department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, noted that primaries were remarkably competitive this year, with several viable candidates in both parties. He also said that despite public outrage about money in politics, spending continues to mount.
"The competitive primary helps explain part of it," Norris said. "The rest of it is it costs more every time there's an election."
Given how much money was spent, the primary voter turnout of 22 percent was "depressing," said Todd Eberly, professor of political science at St. Mary's College. "It takes more than money to get people to the polls," he said.
Almost half of spending on the primary came from a single candidate: Lieutenant Governor Brown shelled out about $11.2 million as he cruised to victory over Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Del. Heather R. Mizeur.
The three Democrats together accounted for 87 percent of primary spending — $21.5 million. The Republicans, including lesser-known candidates, spent $3.3 million.
Brown's campaign manager, Justin Schall, disputed the relevance of the cost-per-voter statistic, noting that campaigns must pay to reach every Marylander, and then only some of them head to the polls.
"The cost of running a campaign is the cost of talking to the entire state," he said.
John T. Willis, executive in residence at the University of Baltimore's School of Public and International Affairs, called the primary spending "extraordinary" but said the low turnout was not surprising.
"That's happening all over the country. That's not peculiar to Maryland," Willis said.
Primary spending was heavier than in other recent election years because there were hotly contested races in both parties for the first time since 1994. In the past three elections, Gov. Martin O'Malley and former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. had sewn up their parties' nominations well before Election Day.
Willis also noted that campaign staffs, consultants, postage and other campaign necessities all cost more than they did 20 years ago. "Where there was a reliance on volunteers, everybody gets paid now," he said.
Brown's spending exceeded the previous record for a Maryland primary, but so did Gansler's campaign with $7.5 million. Mizeur, who accepted public financing, spent nearly $2.8 million — almost as much as the four Republican candidates combined.
Hogan led the GOP field with $1.9 million. Harford County Executive David R. Craig spent a little over $1 million, while two other GOP candidates lagged far behind.
The calculations are conservative because they exclude spending by running mates' campaign committees as well as Brown's post-primary spending on bills run up before that election. Nor do they include spending by outside groups seeking to influence the election.
Norris figures that Brown is likely to spend another $10 million or more on his general election battle with Hogan.
Hogan now enjoys a 3-1 advantage in cash on hand. He collected a $2.6 million lump sum from the state's public financing fund last month, and has spent some of that money. Under that system, he has agreed to forgo fundraising for his own campaign.
But Brown can continue to raise money up to the Nov. 4 election.
That means Hogan's cash advantage as of last week is almost certainly temporary, but that didn't deter his campaign from sending out a blast email Wednesday touting it. Hogan spokesman Adam Dubitsky dismissed Brown's campaign tactic of spending so much during the competitive primary.
"Anthony Brown squandered millions expecting a 'mole hill' of an election in November. With his once formidable lead all but vanished, clearly over-taxed Marylanders have other ideas," he said.
The campaign email also sought donations for the Maryland Republican Party, through the so-called Hogan Victory Fund. In addition to party support, outside political groups can pay for advertising and otherwise back Hogan's campaign.
Paul Herrnson, who heads the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut, said independent conservative groups will be watching Hogan's poll numbers and finances to decide whether to invest in the governor's race in heavily Democratic Maryland.
"An outside group wants to influence the election, and it wants to do so in a way that gets them some recognition," said Herrnson, a former University of Maryland political science professor.
Eberly said he expects the trend toward ever-more-expensive elections to continue.
"I suspect you're going to see competitive primaries become the norm in the state, and if it does, you're going to see this kind of spending become the norm," he said. "Money is going to become ever more important in Maryland politics."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun