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Former T. Rowe Price executive Mary Miller pours $1.5 million into Baltimore mayoral campaign

Mary Miller, one of the Baltimore City mayoral candidates in the Democratic primary, worked at T. Rowe Price for 26 years and served in the Obama adminstration. Feb. 13, 2020
Mary Miller, one of the Baltimore City mayoral candidates in the Democratic primary, worked at T. Rowe Price for 26 years and served in the Obama adminstration. Feb. 13, 2020(Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Mary Miller, a former T. Rowe Price Group executive and U.S. Treasury official, has poured $1.5 million of her own money into her Baltimore mayoral campaign, a massive investment that can help her remain on voters’ screens while they’re supposed to be spending lots of time at home.

Maryland postponed its primary until June 2 from April 28, part of the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic that has transformed daily life across the globe and, on a local level, radically altered the mayoral race.

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Based on the original election schedule, candidates’ second round of campaign finance reports were due Tuesday. But under the new date, that deadline was pushed back a month.

Miller’s campaign provided some financial figures to The Baltimore Sun, giving voters the first glimpse into how she is managing to fund her aggressive media strategy. After jumping into the race in January with little name recognition, she’s been on voters’ TV and computer screens since mid-February, when she launched a $500,000 media buy.

Her campaign did not file in the first round of reports, which were due in January, because of Miller’s late entrance into the race.

Miller’s campaign said Tuesday that it has received more than 750 donations, raising roughly $600,000 to date. That’s on top of the $1.5 million she contributed to her campaign.

A campaign spokeswoman said Miller has spent more than $1.3 million so far on “voter contact,” including roughly $675,000 on broadcast and TV buys.

Miller has about $410,000 cash on hand, according to her campaign.

The candidates are not required to publish detailed reports, with information such as who their donors are, until April 28.

When asked, only one other major mayoral campaign agreed to provide The Sun with an updated financial summary, as if the deadline for public disclosure were still Tuesday.

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Former Mayor Sheila Dixon’s campaign said she had more than $240,000 cash on hand as of last week, up from about $89,000 in January.

She’s raised roughly $260,000 since the Jan. 8 cutoff, a two-month period during which a Baltimore Sun/University of Baltimore/WYPR-FM poll showed Dixon had opened up a slight lead in the crowded race.

“Sheila Dixon is publicly releasing the fundraising numbers for two reasons," said spokeswoman Martha McKenna. “One, because transparency is a priority for her. Two, to thank the hundreds of people from across the city who have made a contribution to support her.”

Candidates are working on how to continue getting their message out now that many of the go-tos of traditional campaigning are no longer an option.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has ordered a slate of drastic measures be taken to limit the spread of the coronavirus, including a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people. He announced Monday that he was ordering all nonessential businesses in the state, including retail stores, to close. Schools have already been shuttered for a week.

That means candidates can no longer legally host big, in-person fundraisers or take part in large public forums. They can’t send their staff out to knock on doors and spend valuable face-to-face time with voters.

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“Money is always important, period. It’s obviously heightened in a situation where having a large team of volunteers knocking on doors has been taken off the table,” said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College.

With so much uncertainty tied to the coronavirus pandemic, Kromer said soliciting donations from average residents will be more difficult.

“Giving to political campaigns is probably low on people’s list when faced with a serious economic downturn,” she said.

Campaigns will be under more pressure to meet voters where they are by getting onto their screens. Several campaigns have hosted Facebook Live forums or done virtual “meet and greets.”

So far, four candidates have taken out TV ad buys: Miller, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, City Council President Brandon Scott and former state Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah.

Former Baltimore spokesman T.J. Smith has not, but his campaign has spent about $9,000 on Facebook ad buys.

According to the January campaign finance reports, Smith had about $22,000 cash on hand — much less than the other major contenders. Smith said he would provide updated information at the next due date.

Vignarajah’s campaign also declined to provide an accounting by Tuesday, other than to say it has spent $400,000 on TV and digital ads. He reported in January having about $840,000 on hand after raising more than $1 million.

Young had nearly $960,000 cash on hand as of the first financial disclosure deadline, while Scott had nearly $430,000 to spend. Both campaigns declined to provide updated numbers ahead of the new April deadline.

Miller’s personal investment is reminiscent of businessman David L. Warnock’s spending in the 2016 Baltimore mayoral race. Warnock, who finished fourth, lent his campaign nearly $2 million. Miller, who worked with Warnock at T. Rowe Price, publicly supported him as a candidate.

Miller also released five years of tax returns to The Sun on Tuesday, following the lead of several of her fellow candidates, including Vignarajah, Scott, Dixon and Sen. Mary Washington, who dropped out of the race last week.

The returns, filed jointly with her husband, attorney James Dabney Miller, show the pair earned more than $3.8 million in income annually from 2014 to 2018, peaking in 2018 with $7.3 million. Much of that income was earned through capital gains — the increase in value of an asset realized when it is sold. The Millers earned nearly $5.2 million in capital gains in 2018.

The pair earned an additional $2.1 million to $3.2 million annually in dividends.

Miller saw her income increase after leaving her job with the Obama administration and becoming a consultant. She earned $162,089 in business income in 2015, a figure that grew to $464,692 by 2017.

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The Millers gave more than $1 million in charitable contributions in all but one of the five years covered by the returns. The pair gave more than $2.4 million in 2018.

If she is elected mayor, Miller pledged to not take a salary. The Baltimore mayor is paid nearly $190,000.

“As mayor, I will commit to having no outside business dealings," she said in a statement. “I want to send a message from the top that no one should use public office for personal gain.”

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