Sun Investigates

Gov. Martin O'Malley only the latest to skirt donor limits

WASHINGTON — — In setting up his campaign accounts for a potential presidential run, Gov. Martin O'Malley is following a long path of politicians from both parties who have managed to raise buckets of cash without having to adhere to federal contribution limits.

O'Malley, who has said he is considering a run for the Democratic nomination in 2016, filed reports with the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service on Wednesday showing he had raised nearly $500,000 in the first six months of the year.


About two thirds of that was raised into a so-called non-federal account, which the governor can spend on candidates in state races — including in early primary states — or for travel and other expenses. If he decides to run, the money could potentially be used to pay for advertising to support him.

Most important for now, the account is a way to get around the $2,600 limit on how much donors can contribute per election to politicians who have officially declared their candidacy.


O'Malley aides said the governor has voluntarily limited contributions to $10,000.

So far, there are only 11 instances of donors giving more than they could have through a standard, FEC-regulated account. All of them gave at O'Malley's self-imposed $10,000 cap.

The structure of O'Malley's accounts is somewhat unusual, particularly for a Democrat. That's partly because Democrats, with an incumbent in 2012, haven't had a presidential primary since 2008 and federal campaign finance law has undergone sweeping changes since then.

Republicans Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich used similar approaches at the start of the 2012 race.

But the broader practice of raising beyond contribution limits before formally declaring a candidacy is decades old. Ronald Reagan laid the foundation for it ahead of the 1980 campaign, said Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center.

The nonpartisan group advocates for stricter campaign finance rules, including on this issue.

"Since the late 1970s candidates have pushed the boundaries to skirt contribution limits," Ryan said.