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Baltimore County Executive Olszewski, other politicians use birthdays to score favorite gift: campaign cash

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/ Baltimore Sun)

Most adult birthday party invitations typically instruct guests to dispense with the formality of gifts.

But getting into Tuesday’s birthday bash for Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. requires the one gift every politician is always asking for: campaign cash.

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Olszewski won’t face reelection until 2022, but he is set to host a party for his birthday Sept. 10 to raise funds for his campaign coffers, according to the invitation on his website, GoJohnnyO.com. (His Facebook page characterized the event as his “annual celebration of summer (and Birthday!)"

No wonder: the Dundalk Democrat’s campaign account started 2018 with more than $500,000 and ended with $25,000, according to campaign finance reports. That’s what it took for him to achieve a narrow victory in his party’s primary and mount a contested general election campaign against a Republican challenger to win control of the state’s third-largest county.

The invitation for the party states that “sponsors” who pay between $250 and $2,500 to attend will have the county executive all to themselves, 6-7 p.m. at Row Boat Willie’s Dock Bar, a Millers Island institution situated near the end of a peninsula that stabs into Hawk Cove and looks out on the Chesapeake Bay beyond Pleasure Island. After the VIP reception, guests with $40 tickets will get to wish Olszewski a happy 37th birthday until 9 p.m. on a night when Willie’s is typically closed.

Olszewski supporters are well acquainted with the bar: The county executive staged a “summer celebration and early vote kickoff” on June 12, 2018, days before the primary election. He hosted earlier events in 2016 and 2017.

In addition to the beautiful vistas of the bay, partygoers could also go for a short stroll to the nearby 8800 block of Chesapeake Ave. to take a gander at the property Olszewski purchased for $135,000 on June 28, 2016, according to real estate records. His financial disclosure report filed in April states that the property is a vacant lot.

The disclosure form also lists a number of gifts he received as county executive in November and December after he won the election, not for his birthday. There was a $63 spathiphyllum plant from Verletta White, former superintendent of the county’s public school system; several gifts of chocolate and candy that he reported sharing with his staff; and a portrait painted by one of Olszewski’s former students from Patapsco High School.

To be fair, using birthdays to raise campaign funds is a fairly standard procedure.

Sen. Sarah Elfreth, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, is scheduled to host a “birthday bonfire” in Annapolis five days after Olszewski’s party, according to calendars maintained by various lobbyists. Del. Michele Guyton, a Baltimore County Democrat, is scheduled to throw hers next month at Boordy Vineyards. And Sen. Michael Hough, a Republican representing parts of Frederick and Carroll counties, has a 40th “birthday party bash” planned for November in Frederick with tickets ranging from $40 to $6,000, according to the Frederick County GOP website.

That’s the maximum amount individuals, companies and associations can donate to a campaign during the current four-year election cycle that ends Dec. 31, 2022 — the same year Olszewski turns 40.

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