Md. developer courts another vice president

Baltimore Sun

For the second time in less than six years, David S. Cordish played host to the nation's vice president at a high-dollar fundraising event, when Joe Biden headlined a Democratic reception Wednesday night at the developer's Lutherville home.

It's not unusual at the loftiest levels of political fundraising for a major contributor to introduce the vice president at an event at which he is host.

What is rare about Cordish's case, though, is that the last vice president he welcomed was Republican Dick Cheney. The July 2004 event, at which Cordish personally gave $25,000, benefited the successful Bush-Cheney re-election campaign that year, raising an estimated $500,000.

Wednesday's fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee raised about $300,000.

Biden spoke in Cordish's living room to about 60 supporters, including Baltimore Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake. He acknowledged his curse word in front of an open microphone at Tuesday's signing of the historic health care overhaul measure. He also predicted Democratic losses in the fall elections.

But he said the passage of health care legislation proves "that this country is capable of handling complex, ideological divisive, consequential issues."

Biden made headlines this week after telling President Barack Obama that the health insurance overhaul was a "big [expletive] deal." The comment was picked up by microphones and threatened to overshadow the ceremony.

Biden said Obama joked at a Wednesday morning briefing that the "best thing from yesterday" was "Joe's comment" and that the president was trying to get the phrase printed on a T-shirt.

"I told him, 'If you thought it was so good, why didn't you say it?' " Biden said.

Cordish's profile has been on the rise in his home state because he has been the developer of major entertainment venues across the country. He is pledging to spend $1 billion dollars to construct the state's largest slots parlor next to Arundel Mills mall, along with hotels and fine restaurants.

Cordish, 70, might need to embark on a political campaign of his own, however, to get approval to build. Homeowners near the mall and other Anne Arundel County residents have undertaken an apparently successful petition drive that could force a fall referendum on a local zoning decision that allows the project. Cordish would presumably mount an effort to preserve the zoning approval, battling the Maryland Jockey Club and other horse interests who hope to overturn the mall project so slots could go to the Laurel Park racetrack instead.

As a campaign contributor over the years, Cordish has given to the candidates and causes of both major parties. In 2006, he donated $1,250 to the Senate campaign of Michael S. Steele, now chairman of the Republican National Committee. A few months later, he gave $4,000 to Steele's Democratic opponent, Benjamin L. Cardin, who won the election and who had received money from Cordish in the past.

Since 1994, Cordish has given about $125,000 to Democrats and about $52,000 to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group in Washington that tracks money in politics.

Records show his giving seems to shift with the political winds. In the lead-up to the 2004 election, his contributions favored Republicans. He appears to have largely sat out the 2008 election, and his spending over the past two years has favored Democrats.

He has given to Biden just once - a $500 contribution in 1999.

But the developer said Wednesday that his ties to Biden date to when Cordish directed a Carter administration urban development grants program. He said Biden was one of the few people in Congress who "bothered to really understand" the issue.

"Some might say he monopolized the program for Wilmington," Cordish quipped.

He also praised Biden's work with Israel and a recent speech that he called "on the money" for pointing out the danger of Iran's nuclear ambitions. Cordish is also a regular contributor to a pro-Israel group called the Maryland Association for Concerned Citizens, giving more than $50,000 since 1989, and is a national board member for AIPAC, a pro-Israel lobby.

Campaign finance analysts say it is not rare for wealthy donors to give to both parties in an attempt to spread their influence, but playing host to two sitting vice presidents from different parties is a "bold" way to "attempt to influence powerful politicians," said Dave Levinthal, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics.

"You couldn't find two politicians who are more at odds philosophically than Dick Cheney and Joe Biden," Levinthal said.

Cordish gave the Democratic National Committee $15,200 in 2009, which counts toward his total of $30,400, the limit for individuals for the current two-year cycle.

It appears to be the largest contribution he has given since 2004, when he donated $25,000 to the 2004 Joint State Victory Committee, a Republican committee that funneled money to Republican campaigns in 15 battleground states across the country.

Biden spoke for about a half-hour, then fielded questions from guests, who paid at least $2,500 each and ate seafood Newburg with jumbo shrimp, fresh lobster and crab. The audience included former Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland and Robert C. Embry, president of the Abell Foundation.

At one point, Cordish took Biden into a small side room to show him a stack of books about opera singer Rosa Ponselle.

The vice president said Republicans were dishonest about wanting to provide health care solutions. Backlash against Republicans, he predicted, is an "ace we have in our pocket" that would lead to Democratic victories in November.

At least seven Republican senators, he said, wanted to vote for the health care bill but were pressured not to by party leaders. He did not name them.

He said to applause that "reports of the demise of the Democratic Party in November are premature," but he also predicted losses for his party in the fall.

In 2008, Biden said, Obama "generated such an overwhelming turnout and enthusiasm" that "a lot of really good Democrats got washed up on shore and all of a sudden were congressmen in districts that Democrats have no business having congressmen."

"I'm not here to tell you we're gaining seats," he said. "But I'm telling you, we're going to go into the second half of our administration with a solid Democratic majority in the House and the Senate and with the wind at our backs."

Baltimore Sun reporter Paul West contributed to this article.

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