The first campaign finance reports for the 2020 election cycle were due Wednesday at midnight, and one thing is abundantly clear: There’s a lot of money flowing into Baltimore’s crowded mayoral race.
Democrats running for mayor in deep-blue Baltimore have collectively raised more than $2.3 million heading into the final months of the primary campaign.
More than a dozen Democrats have filed to run, as well as four Republicans, ahead of a Jan. 24 deadline.
Candidates include Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, City Council President Brandon Scott, former Deputy Maryland Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah, former Mayor Sheila Dixon, former Baltimore Police Department spokesman T.J. Smith, state Sen. Mary Washington and former T. Rowe Price executive Mary Miller.
As The Baltimore Sun combs through hundreds of pages in the filings, here are some of the key takeaways:
Who leads the pack?
Young is in a strong financial position as he fights to hold onto his job: He has nearly $960,000 cash on hand. Vignarajah is close behind after reporting that he has about $840,000 on hand and has raised more than $1 million.
Scott has nearly $430,000 cash on hand, while Washington has more than $116,000 to spend and Dixon has almost $89,000.
Smith reported having about $22,000 cash on hand — less than anti-violence advocate and mediator Carlmichael “Stokey” Cannady, who has nearly $36,000.
Businessman Rikki Vaughn has more than $75,000 cash on hand after loaning his campaign roughly $170,000.
There’s national interest in Baltimore’s mayoral campaign
Several of the high-profile Democrats have collectively brought in hundreds of out-of-state donations.
Vignarajah has the financial support of John and Laura Arnold, Texas philanthropists who are funding surveillance planes that will fly over Baltimore starting this year to gather images for city police investigations. Each Arnold donated $6,000, the maximum a candidate can receive from one person. Ross McNutt, founder of the Ohio-based company that pitched the plane, also gave $6,000. He had the most out-of-state donors in the pack, with more than 300, according to a Baltimore Sun analysis.
Washington received $4,000 from Facebook, which makes hundreds of political donations in state races. The California-based social media company also gave $6,000 to Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson and $4,000 to former Senate President Mike Miller in the most recent cycle. Washington’s campaign also has the highest percentage of individual donations that come from inside the city, the analysis shows.
Atlantic City School District Superintendent Barry Caldwell wrote Young two checks for $3,000 each in mid-December.
Two members of the prominent Luetkemeyer family living in California gave Scott $6,000 each.
Spreading the money
Several major donors are spreading their money around the field.
Lobbyist Frank Boston III, for example, gave $2,000 to Young, $500 to Washington and $500 to Scott. He donated in a similar fashion in 2016, giving to four mayoral candidates, including Dixon and then-state Sen. Catherine Pugh, the eventual winner.
A large chunk of Young’s recent fundraising stemmed from a $4,000-a-person October fundraiser at The Bygone restaurant in Harbor East that was co-hosted by restaurateur Alex Smith. He and his brother, Eric, who formed the Atlas Restaurant Group, each gave $6,000, the maximum a candidate can receive from one person. Their father, Frederick Smith, of Hunt Valley-based Sinclair Broadcasting Group, gave $4,000.
But some Smith family members are helping out other candidates, too. Eric Smith gave $1,000 to Scott as well. And Duncan Smith, also of Sinclair, gave $6,000 to Vignarajah.
Ivan Bates, who ran against Vignarajah for Baltimore state’s attorney in 2018, gave $500 apiece to Scott and Dixon.
How are they spending the money?
There are less than four months to go until the April 28 primary, so spending is going to ramp up quickly.
So far, Vignarajah has made the biggest media push, taking out his first TV spot in November. He also has put up billboards in prominent spots across the city. He’s spent more than $100,000 on television ads, his report shows, and nearly $4,000 on billboards.
Young, meanwhile, spent $1,700 on billboards. He also paid $8,500 to a Washington-based opposition research firm.
Several candidates have paid for internal polls. Washington spent about $13,000 for polling, while Dixon paid $20,000 in November to survey voters on the race. Scott spent the most on polling, paying $29,000 to take measure of the election.
He paid for his poll March 11, 2019. That was two days before The Sun reported that nine members of the University of Maryland Medical System’s Board of Directors — including Pugh — had business deals with the hospital network.
That story set in motion a series of events that would completely alter the 2020 mayoral race.
Pugh resigned amid a myriad of investigations into her business dealings. She has since pleaded guilty to four counts of conspiracy and tax evasion related to the “Healthy Holly” book deals.
Her resignation elevated then-City Council President Young to the mayor’s seat and cleared the way for Scott’s rise to council president.
Vaughn has spent more than $25,000 on billboards and outdoor advertising, his report shows, and is also paying thousands of dollars for radio ads.
Scott’s campaign finance report reveals that he returned on Dec. 20 a $4,500 donation from Grant Capital Management, the Columbia-based firm of J.P. Grant. According to a November federal plea deal for Pugh, Grant gave Pugh $164,000 to buy copies of her self-published “Healthy Holly” books.
The city has a longstanding financing agreement with Grant to help it make expensive purchases — dubbed the “master lease." The value of the contract depends on what the city uses it to buy, meaning the more they use it, the more Grant makes. Contracts approved under his master lease are often not competitively bid.
Grant is also a major political donor in the city, who has contributed to many of the candidates currently running over the years. After the “Healthy Holly” revelations, Vignarajah has been critical of his role in city government.
Baltimore Sun reporters Emily Opilo and Christine Zhang contributed to this article.