Sarbanes leads in race for money

The Baltimore Sun

City Council president candidate Michael Sarbanes has raised nearly $40,000 more than incumbent Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake during the first seven months of this year, with half of his campaign contributions flowing in from outside Maryland.

Sarbanes has slightly more cash on hand, $248,209, compared with Rawlings-Blake's $220,783 balance, according to reports filed this week with the Maryland State Board of Elections. The reports cover the period from Jan. 11 to Aug. 7.

The close totals reflect what is shaping up to be the city's most competitive race in the Sept. 11 Democratic primary.

Sarbanes said he is troubled by how Rawlings-Blake appears to have ended the campaign account she has used for previous council races. The account, which was used to raise money for the council president's campaign through the spring, showed a negative balance of $64,927 but inexplicably ended up closing with a balance of zero. The discrepancy caused the campaign to open a new account in early June.

Luke Clippinger, the Rawlings-Blake campaign manager, said it was a technical problem they've been working to resolve for the past few months. But the discrepancy raised questions about both the source of the money and whether Rawlings-Blake has as much cash on hand as she claims.

"We need a lot more clarity about the city's budget than the interim president seems to have about her own campaign account," Sarbanes said.

Also running in the primary are City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. and Charles Ulysses Smith, a frequent candidate.

Harris said he raised $117,445 and has $16,000 left, but he said incorrect amounts are posted on the Board of Elections Web site. On the Web site, Harris is shown to have raised $80,520 and spent none.

The balance left is critical as candidates make a final push to project their image and message. Both Rawlings-Blake and Sarbanes said they will have television ads running soon. Harris said he is also exploring running television ads.

The state requires that candidates file a second round of campaign finance reports Aug. 31.

Sarbanes -- who was the executive director of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association -- is the son of retired U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes. A longtime activist and former aide to former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the younger Sarbanes is making his first run for public office.

Rawlings-Blake -- the daughter of the late Howard P. Rawlings, a longtime state delegate -- was elected to the council in 1995 and represented the 6th District before being elected City Council president by her colleagues in January. This is her first City Council president race.

The candidates were in a virtual tie in a poll conducted for The Sun last month, with a large portion of voters undecided.

Donald F. Norris, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said "the poll said it was close. The contributors say it's close."

"You've gotta believe that each one of them is going to spend whatever they can even if they have to borrow to get their message across, given that this thing is so close," Norris said.

It remained unclear yesterday what happened with Rawlings-Blake's first campaign account.

The account, carried forward from her previous campaigns, started with a negative $28,569 balance, according to state campaign finance records.

During the period, it showed that $60,140 had been raised and $96,498 spent, leaving a negative balance of $64,927. But the final balance reported was zero.

Clippinger said the campaign would file an amended report and that the discrepancy is not a result of "malfeasance or mismanagement."

"What we know is that we closed that account with nothing in the bank," Clippinger said. "There's no liability. You can't spend money that you don't have. But for some reason it's not showing up in the report."

While the Rawlings-Blake campaign pointed out Sarbanes' large percentage of contributions from outside of Baltimore, Sarbanes highlighted the large number of contributions the Rawlings-Blake campaign received from corporate interests rather than individuals.

About half of the $357,000 raised by Sarbanes came from outside Maryland, compared with 10 percent of the $320,000 raised in the two accounts of Rawlings-Blake, according to an analysis of campaign finance figures.

About two-thirds of Sarbanes' contributions came from outside Baltimore City, compared with more than a third for Rawlings-Blake.

Sarbanes' donations -- some, the maximum of $4,000 -- came in from California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Chicago, many from people with Greek-American surnames. One donation came from Puerto Rico, and others flowed in from Georgia, Michigan and Colorado.

"There are lots of people who care about Baltimore's future," Sarbanes said. "It really is a broad base of people."

Asked about the Greek contributors -- who were similarly strong supporters of his father and brother, U.S. Rep. John P. Sarbanes -- Sarbanes said: "There are a lot of people who I've known for my whole life who really believe in the tradition of public service."

Clippinger said his campaign was proud of the large amount of money raised in the state. "I think it kind of makes you wonder who's really supporting this guy."

Norris said he wasn't surprised that a lot of Sarbanes' money came from outside Maryland. "He's a white candidate running in a predominantly black city," Norris said. " I would guess he's going to have to get more funds than his opponent out of city and out of state."

Lenneal J. Henderson, a professor at the University of Baltimore's School of Public Affairs, said where the candidates are raising money reflects their fathers' influences, to some degree.

"I'm not surprised by Michael's [out-of-Baltimore contributions] because of where his father's influence is both within Maryland and around the country as a former U.S. senator," Henderson said.

And Rawlings-Blake's father was powerful in the Baltimore area, Henderson said.

"It's a really interesting race," Henderson said. "You have a contest between two very dynamic people whose parents were influential."

Sun reporter John Fritze contributed to this article.

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