Maryland congressman Andy Harris’ biggest expense during the last election wasn’t fundraising, campaign commercials or staff. It was contributions to political friends, allies and organizations mostly loyal to then-President Donald Trump.
The Republican from Baltimore County sent more than $325,000 from his 2020 campaign account to conservative groups and candidates — including Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, a right-wing gun activist who once tweeted that she would “carry my Glock to Congress,” and a fund supporting Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who was recently stripped of her committee assignments because she indicated support for political violence and bizarre conspiracy theories.
Some of the money went to state and national GOP organizations and others in the U.S. House of Representatives who — like Harris — supported Trump’s efforts to overturn the presidential election, Federal Election Commission records show.
Beyond contributions from his campaign account, Harris also donated $70,000 through his political action committee, Chesapeake PAC.
Colleagues in the House who got donations from Harris included Boebert, Utah’s Burgess Owens, Minnesota’s Michelle Fishbach and West Virginia’s Alex Mooney, who is a former Maryland state senator. All were among the 147 lawmakers who opposed formal certification of President Joe Biden’s electoral win.
Some deep-pocketed corporate funders, including American Express, Comcast, Marriott International and Blue Cross Blue Shield, said last month that they were halting campaign donations to any lawmaker who voted to subvert state-certified election results
It is not uncommon for incumbents of both parties to give campaign cash to like-minded candidates. That is particularly true of lawmakers, such as Harris, who represent districts that rarely produce competitive challengers.
His 1st Congressional District was redrawn by Maryland Democrats after the 2010 census and packed with GOP voters to maximize Democrats’ chances in the state’s seven other districts. The result gave Harris a relatively safe seat and plenty of unneeded campaign cash.
Harris’ contributions are noteworthy, particularly in such a blue state, because of the recipients who represent the far right of the GOP at a time when the party is split over whether to support Trump or tack away from the twice-impeached former president.
Harris has said he “held legitimate constitutional concerns” about the handling of the presidential election.
While courts have rejected claims of election fraud, Trump called the balloting “rigged” and urged rallygoers on Jan. 6 to march to the U.S. Capitol. The crowd stormed the building, leading to the deaths of a Capitol Police officer and four other people.
Harris, who is in his sixth term, did not respond to questions from The Baltimore Sun for this article.
Even after making his gifts, Harris had about $1 million in campaign cash at the end of the year.
Harris, an anesthesiologist, has routinely topped 60% of the vote in his five reelection campaigns in the 1st District, which includes parts of Carroll, Harford and Baltimore counties, as well as the Eastern Shore. He has said he will seek a seventh, two-year term in 2022, despite promising in 2010 to serve no more than six terms.
“In his own district, which is very conservative, he is able to blast out his own message,” said Roger E. Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs.
“What he’s also able to do is really deepen the political message in other parts of the nation,” Hartley said.
The campaign committees of Harris and other lawmakers are legally permitted to contribute up to $2,000 each to fellow candidates and $5,000 to political action committees during a two-year election cycle.
The records show Harris’ campaign and PAC combined to spend $70,000 in the 2019-20 campaign cycle on the House Freedom Fund, which supports conservative candidates including Georgia’s Greene.
Last year, Harris’ campaign donated $2,000 apiece to David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, the Republican U.S. Senate candidates from Georgia who were candidates in runoff elections. Their losses meant that Democrats were able to gain control of the Senate this year.
Harris’ campaign also made 17 contributions to the Susan B. Anthony List totaling $32,000, according to his Federal Election Commission reports. The fund backs conservative anti-abortion candidates, including South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis and Boebert.
West Virginia’s Mooney, a former chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, got $4,000 from Harris during the campaign, plus another $5,500 from Harris’ PAC. Boebert received $2,000 each from Harris’ campaign and the PAC, while Fishbach and Owens each got $2,000 donations from the campaign.
Harris formed the PAC in 2018. Such committees are used by current and former members of Congress to dole out contributions to political allies.
Harris reported raising $1.5 million overall and spending $984,000 of it during 2019-20. He spent $328,850 — about one-third — on political contributions, according to a tally by the Center for Responsive Politics, which advocates for government transparency. More than $120,000 went to GOP organizations such as the Maryland Republican Party and the National Republican Congressional Committee.
His PAC reported raising $93,500 during the period, including $5,000 contributions from Hunt Valley-based Sinclair Broadcast Group vice president and board member Frederick G. Smith and Scott Dorsey, chair and CEO of Merritt Properties, headquartered in Baltimore.
Candidates contribute to other candidates for a variety of reasons.
“It’s done often to advance them in the leadership,” said UB’s Hartley. “It builds up political favors.”
Harris is a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, though his influence was reduced after Democrats gained control of the House in the 2018 elections.
House members are contributing to what Rep. John Sarbanes, a Baltimore County Democrat, calls an “escalating arms race” — an increasing amount of campaign money being raised in federal elections.
The surge of money — powered partly by billionaires contributing to super PACs — means many lawmakers are raising more than they need in case they become targeted by interest groups trying to defeat them. Super PACS can raise unlimited sums and have no cap on “independent expenditures,” provided they aren’t coordinating with a candidate or campaign.
Not only are members raising more for themselves as a safeguard, they are also raising more for party allies whose fortunes “can impact who wins and loses control of Congress,” said Sarbanes, who has introduced bills that would tighten rules on super PACs.