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Maryland Republican Party works to climb out of financial hole from Pence fundraiser

Vice President Mike Pence arrives at BWI Thurgood Marshall International Airport in June to speak at the Maryland Republican Party's Red, White and Blue Dinner fundraiser. At the end of September, the party had less than $4,000 in the bank and owed nearly $94,000 on a line of credit, which officials said was caused primarily by cost overruns from the Pence event.
Vice President Mike Pence arrives at BWI Thurgood Marshall International Airport in June to speak at the Maryland Republican Party's Red, White and Blue Dinner fundraiser. At the end of September, the party had less than $4,000 in the bank and owed nearly $94,000 on a line of credit, which officials said was caused primarily by cost overruns from the Pence event. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

Maryland’s Republican Party was socked with unexpectedly high costs for hosting Vice President Mike Pence at a fundraiser, creating a hole in party finances and forcing officials to run up a line of credit.

Financial statements obtained by The Baltimore Sun show that at the end of September, the party had less than $4,000 in the bank and a balance of nearly $94,000 on a line of credit.

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Party Chairman Dirk Haire said the financial statements represent only a snapshot of the party’s finances and that the party will be in the black by the end of the year.

Haire said the shortfall reflected on the financial statements, dated Sept. 30, was due largely to the “massive, unexpected” bills associated with having Pence headline the party’s annual Red, White and Blue Dinner in June. More than 500 people bought tickets to hear Pence speak at a Linthicum hotel.

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Revenue from the sold out dinner was strong — $149,070 came in, compared to $110,000 that was budgeted — but the expenses exceeded what was budgeted, according to the financial statements.

The cost to put on the event was $105,215, compared to the budget of $32,000.

Hosting Pence meant the Maryland Republican Party had to pay for dozens of Secret Service agents and other expenses associated with the vice president, Haire said

“I wasn’t expecting to have to pay $75,000 for the vice president’s stuff. That was not in our budget,” Haire said, adding: “We were, of course, thrilled to have the vice president.”

Notably absent from this year’s Red, White and Blue Dinner were Gov. Larry Hogan and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, both popular Republican politicians. Hogan and Rutherford attended a Maryland Municipal League conference in Ocean City instead.

Besides the Red, White and Blue Dinner, other fundraising lagged through the first nine months of the year, according to the financial statements. Donors contributed just $57,000 by Sept. 30, rather than the $256,500 that was budgeted.

But Haire said the party’s donations should be in good shape by the end of the year. The financial statements are “not reflective of the current accounts,” he said.

Since the quarterly financial statements were compiled at the end of September, Haire said the party has raised money to make up the deficit. An event in Annapolis last week cleared nearly $80,000. And Haire said he has additional pledges from donors that total “more than six figures.”

Haire said that the first year after a gubernatorial election tends to be a quiet one for party fundraising, with many donors “worn out” and the next election too far away.

“This is very typical, if you look back in past cycles,” Haire said.

He expects the party’s fundraising to build gradually toward 2022, when there will be races for governor, several county executive positions and all 188 seats in the Maryland General Assembly.

Asked if Hogan could be a draw to boost party fundraising, Haire said: “If he would like to do an event with the party, we would welcome him to do that. My observation has been that his fundraising has been focused on his special purpose entities and I have no visibility into those.”

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Hogan held a “Governor’s Gala” fundraiser at a casino last month to benefit his Change Maryland political organization. Because Change Maryland is not a campaign account, donors are not limited in how much they can contribute. Hogan’s team has said they plan to raise $2 million to promote the governor’s agenda.

Doug Mayer, a political strategist who previously worked for Hogan, said: “The governor, since 2014 to present day, has raised for the Maryland Republican Party $10.5 million and was happy to do so. How you can have a fundraiser with a sitting vice president and still manage to be in debt seems a little hard to understand. And I sure hope they figure out their issues sooner rather than later.”

Maryland’s Democratic Party, which holds a 2-to-1 registration advantage over Republicans, also has been divided over its spending. State Sen. Cory McCray, the acting state party chairman, said last week that he began canceling contracts with vendors after finding the party spent more than it raised for nine of the first 10 months of the year. He said the party’s cash reserves dwindled by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

McCray took over last month for the previous party chairman, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who resigned to run for her late husband’s congressional seat. Rockeymoore Cummings defended her financial management, touting her fundraising and organizational efforts.

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