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Visit by Vice President Pence strained budget, but Maryland Republican Party finished its year in the black

The Maryland Republican Party, hit with unexpectedly high costs associated with a fundraiser featuring Vice President Mike Pence in June, was able to rebound and finish the year in the black. In this June 24, 2019, photo, Pence waves to those gathered as he arrives in Marine Two at the general aviation area of Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Linthicum.
The Maryland Republican Party, hit with unexpectedly high costs associated with a fundraiser featuring Vice President Mike Pence in June, was able to rebound and finish the year in the black. In this June 24, 2019, photo, Pence waves to those gathered as he arrives in Marine Two at the general aviation area of Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Linthicum. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

Maryland’s Republican Party, hit with unexpectedly high costs associated with a fundraiser featuring Vice President Mike Pence in June, was able to rebound and finish the year in the black, according to its campaign finance report.

The party finished with $70,564 on hand, about $26,000 more than the previous year, according to its report filed this week with the Maryland Board of Elections.

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“The perception was we were in trouble and it really wasn’t a correct perception,” said Kathleen Smero, chairwoman of the Baltimore County Republican Party. “I just don’t think it was anything where we were chewing our fingernails off.”

The state Democratic Party reported $112,869 on hand in its Tuesday filing. The reports covered the period from Jan. 10, 2019, to Jan. 8, 2020.

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Democrats said they had more available cash than the report indicated. Fundraising director Jamie Conway said the party also maintains an account it uses for federal election activity. That account, according to the latest report filed with the Federal Election Commission, contained $268,557 as of Nov. 30.

State Democrats, who enjoy a 2-1 voter registration advantage over Republicans in Maryland, said their combined state and federal total dwarfed what the GOP raised.

Among the Democrats’ big fundraisers during the year was a November gala in Middle River featuring U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The event grossed “six figures,” Conway said.

No corresponding report documenting state Republicans’ federal election account balance could be found in the FEC’s online database.

Party Chairman Dirk Haire did not respond to phone calls and other requests for comment. Other party officials, including Treasurer Chris Rosenthal, did not respond to emails.

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

Haire said in December that the financial statements represented only a snapshot of the party’s finances. He 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 on June 24. More than 500 people bought tickets for the sold-out event at a Linthicum hotel and revenue was strong — $149,070 came in, compared to $110,000 that was budgeted.

But the cost to put on the event was $105,215, compared to a budget of $32,000. Hosting Pence meant the state party had to pay for dozens of Secret Service agents and other expenses, Haire explained in December.

The GOP’s state report Tuesday indicated the party has no outstanding loans or bills due.

“At the end of the quarter and calendar year, I do believe contributions picked up,” Smero said. “We paid a lot of money for security (for Pence). There are pros and cons to having a big name.”

Smero said she expects more fundraising activity in 2020, as an election year.

“We just came out of an off-year and now we’re going into the presidential election,” she said. “I just think people pay attention more, especially with these impeachment proceedings going on.”

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