Fortified with a key committee chairmanship, Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell of Baltimore County has become one of Maryland's leading campaign fund-raisers -- collecting enough money to back a re-election bid and donate tens of thousands of dollars to fellow Democrats.
Nearly a year before the election, Bromwell has more campaign money than all but one other state senator -- Senate president and fellow Democrat Thomas V. Mike Miller -- and more than twice as much as any county colleague.
With no rival for his state Senate seat, Bromwell, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, had raised more than $325,000 over the past two years and had $205,000 on hand, according to the latest campaign finance reports. Sen. Barbara H. Hoffman, another Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, had the second most on hand among county senators, $94,000.
Even after donating $75,000 to a new Democratic Party legislative fund, Bromwell has a big campaign chest.
Bromwell says he needs extra money to fend off GOP challengers or to finance a campaign for county executive if incumbent Democrat C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger changes his mind and runs for governor. "He hasn't stopped looking," Bromwell said about Ruppersberger.
Others say that despite Bromwell's 18 years of experience and his down-to-earth manner, the finance chairmanship is the reason he has so much money.
In November 1993, the year before his last election -- and before he was named finance chairman -- Bromwell had $45,000 on hand.
Most of Maryland's senators have less than $50,000 on hand, the latest reports show.
Hoffman noted that the Finance Committee hears issues relating to the health, racing, insurance, labor and consumer credit industries, while groups with less economic influence are interested in her Budget and Taxation Committee's bills.
"We get the state colleges," she said. "I think the chairman of the Finance Committee always gets people to come to his fund-raiser."
Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Democrat who represents northwestern Baltimore County, agreed, noting that the House of Delegates has six committees to the Senate's four, further concentrating contributions. Hollinger reported having $63,458 on hand, behind Hoffman and Towson Republican F. Vernon Boozer's $87,500.
Bromwell knows that the public often takes a cynical view of the money politicians get from special interest groups that do business before their committees. But running for election and publicizing positions "is a very costly thing," he said.
Kathleen S. Skullney, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, a public interest watchdog group, says donations to Bromwell represent a concentration of "huge amounts of special interest money."
'The air of an auction'
"It strikes me as having the air of an auction. And what do you get for an auction? You get a slate," she said, referring to the $1 million campaign fund that Maryland's Democratic senators have started.
Bromwell's campaign report includes donations from local bar and restaurant owners, trash haulers, vending companies and lawyers, along with medical, bank and construction interests. He received $5,000 from Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell, $1,000 from Pimlico Race Course owner Joseph A. DeFrancis, and $1,500 from the Orioles. Modell was refunded $1,000 because he was over the legal limit for political gifts.
"You take care of people who take care of you," said Joe Sliwka, owner of the Barn, a crab house in Carney, and president of the county Licensed Beverage Association. When his group has an issue in Annapolis, Sliwka says, its members know Bromwell will understand because he once ran the Bromwell Inn on Belair Road.
"He's been in the business," Sliwka said. Restaurant and liquor interests have given Bromwell $10,000 this year.
"He's my kind of guy, down to earth. He's like one of us," trash hauler Robert Leatherwood said of Bromwell, who, after leaving the family restaurant, set tile and laid bricks while starting a construction company. Trash haulers gave him more than $5,000 this year.
As finance chairman, Bromwell also attracts money from groups battling over legislation his committee considers.
For example, this year he has received $800 from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s political action committee and $1,200 from the Maryland Alliance for Fair Competition, a competing group of heating and air conditioning contractors.
In 1995, Bromwell received $6,600 from bankrupt trucking company owner Brian H. Davis and his relatives and businesses, money Bromwell promised to refund. Davis, who pleaded guilty in June to bank fraud and tax offenses, is in federal prison.
The senator's treasurer, John R. Schneider, produced a copy of a Jan. 10 letter to the bankruptcy trustee for Oceanic Ltd., Davis' principal business, offering to refund the money. He never got a reply, he said. Howard Rubenstein, the trustee, said that is because the donations came from Davis personally, from a family member and from another Davis-related business, not from Oceanic Ltd.
Del. Alfred W. Redmer Jr., a Republican from Bromwell's home district, said, "Tom is good at raising money because he's not afraid to ask for it."
Bromwell's annual "Jamaica Me Crazy" fund-raiser at the Bay Cafe in Baltimore draws such large crowds that Sen. Michael J. Collins, a Democrat, stays away.
Collins, who represents a district covering Essex and stretching into Harford County, says the east side isn't the Democratic playground it used to be.
"Tom's district is a very competitive district," Collins said. "He's raising funds early to demonstrate to potential opponents that he's going to have the resources to get his message out."
Bromwell acknowledges that he is approaching politics more scientifically. Realizing that he is weak in Cub Hill and the rural, northern areas of his district, he has spent money to let those voters know what he has done to prevent delinquent teen-agers at the nearby Charles Hickey School from running away.
"In today's world, a Democrat in a conservative district -- you've got to get your message out," he said.
The tactic seems to be working, even on his district's Republican delegates.
"Tom is viewed as being a good chairman and has done a good job," Redmer said, adding that he has no plans to challenge Bromwell next year.
The money "makes a significant difference," said Republican Del. James F. Ports Jr. Running against such a well-financed senator is "much more of a risk," he said.
Pub Date: 12/14/97