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Leopold's half-million-dollar year

The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold raised a half-million dollars in his first year in office, nearly as much as his predecessor raised in her first four years, according to a newly released state campaign finance report. More than half of his contributions came from the development community.

Leopold's campaign brought in $504,325, plus $30,654 in in-kind gifts from Jan. 11, 2007, to Jan 9, 2008, doubling the fundraising goal he set when he took office in December 2006.

"It was a good start. ... Early money is helpful," the Republican said.

Leopold said he is committed to seeking a second term as the county's chief executive. A gubernatorial candidate in Hawaii in 1978, he said he is not setting his sights on higher office in Maryland.

Seventy-three donors contributed the state-maximum $4,000 to Leopold; nine offered between $3,000 and $4,000; and 69 gave between $2,000 and $3,000, according to the report filed Wednesday.

One of the higher-profile GOP elected officials in the state, Leopold was criticized after The Sun disclosed two high-profile fundraisers held for him last fall. In September, 25 to 30 developers attended a dinner at the Baltimore Waterfront Marriott during which they contributed $4,000 apiece.

In late November, Sallie Mae executive Albert Lord held a fundraiser for Leopold -- four days before the County Council unanimously passed a bill, which was supported by the administration, to waive a requirement for Lord to build an access road for his private, 18-hole golf course in Harwood. That waiver saved Lord hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Developers, builders and others in the real estate industry contributed more than half of Leopold's donations, at a time when the county is reviewing the once-a-decade growth plan that will decide the fate of billions of dollars in projects.

The county executive said his record of cracking down on illegal building and rebuffing zoning requests from developers who contributed money to his campaign speaks to his independent style of governing. He said he did not seek to capitalize on the review of the county's development plan to gain more money for his campaign. His administration is expected to introduce a bill next week to raise impact fees on developers by thousands of dollars on the building of homes, retail and office space.

"The record of this administration demonstrates that while the builders and developers have a voice at the table," he said, "they should never be allowed to drive public policy in this county. I have strictly enforced that policy."

But the amount of money he has pulled in dwarfs that raised by Democrat Janet S. Owens, who preceded him in office. A former county orphans court judge, she raised $600,000 for her re-election campaign in 2002.

Leopold, a longtime state delegate, lost the Republican nomination for county executive that year. He raised nearly $500,000 in 2006 to beat his Democratic opponent, George F. Johnson IV, who had a campaign fund of more than $1.3 million. About $260,000 of Leopold's total was in the form of personal loans.

"I don't think I should have to spend any more of my own money in future campaigns," Leopold said.


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