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.
Last Sunday, Republican gubernatorial candidate David R. Craig kicked off the post-Thanksgiving rush with a reception in Salisbury — and the fundraising quickly intensified.
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.
Conversely, a weak January report can discourage gifts and tempt potential opponents. "You look vulnerable," said Matthew Crenson, professor emeritus of political science at the Johns Hopkins University.
Maryland campaigns can be expensive in part because of the high cost of running television advertisements in Baltimore and Washington.
"We are a relatively small state but sandwiched between those two expensive media markets," said Martha McKenna, a Baltimore-based media consultant. "It can make things difficult."
A standard buy of television ads for one week in the Baltimore market is expected to cost $187,000 next year, McKenna said. In the Washington suburbs, it's a soaring $586,000.
Since none of the candidates vying for governor have strong ties to Baltimore, "they're really going to want to double down in the Baltimore market," she said.
The demand for dollars is forcing professional money raisers to juggle events for their various clients — sometimes several on the same day.
Colleen Martin-Lauer, a top Democratic fundraiser, said there's a day in early January when her firm is holding four events. Her team members won't be taking any vacations around the holidays as they gear up for that last push.
"I think a June primary has made people more anxious. It just ups everything," Martin-Lauer said.
Republicans are equally busy.
"That week between New Year's and the filing deadline will be nonstop for us," said GOP fundraiser Hillary Pennington. "It's like legislative breakfasts all over the place."
Plaxen, whose Maryland trial lawyers' PAC is one of the state's most prolific givers, said he had a dozen or more fundraiser invitations on his desk as well as an email account stuffed with appeals for money.
Dan Clements, an attorney long active in Democratic politics, said he's getting emails from "candidates and their wives and their kids and their college roommates."
Though Clements is a well-known Gansler supporter, he's received solicitations from Brown and Mizeur as well. Clements, a past donor to Gov. Martin O'Malley, said he believes Brown must be working off the governor's list.
The fundraising pressure runs especially high for candidates who are covered by the session ban but whose opponents are not. Gansler and his running mate, Del. Jolene Ivey of Prince George's County, are restricted. Brown will be sidelined, but his running mate, Ulman — a county official — intends to keep raising money.
Among the Republican gubernatorial candidates, Del. Ron George of Anne Arundel County will have to stop fundraising. But Craig, the Harford County executive; Charles Lollar, a Charles County business executive; and Larry Hogan, a former Ehrlich administration official, are allowed to continue to seek donations.
"There are advantages to not being an incumbent," said Lollar spokeswoman Ann Hingston.
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