Maryland's gubernatorial contest cost the two main candidates about $17 million this year, according to campaign finance reports released Wednesday, with winner Gov. Martin O'Malley outspending Republican challenger Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. by nearly $3 million.
Ehrlich spent about $7 million this year in his bid to reclaim the governor's office. In the final few weeks of the campaign, he loaned himself $20,000 and paid $1.6 million for an advertising blitz, his report shows. He lost to O'Malley by 14 percentage points on Election Day, more than twice the margin of defeat from their 2006 battle.
O'Malley's campaign finance reports showed that the governor spent $10 million in his re-election bid this year. A detailed breakdown of O'Malley's contributions and expenses in the month before the election was not available Wednesday.
"That $3 million made a lot of difference," said Donald Norris, head of the public policy department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He said Ehrlich should have been able to raise a larger sum of money, even given Ehrlich's far shorter campaign of just seven months. "To use a cliche, it appears the smart money was on O'Malley."
New reports also show that the battle over zoning for a slots parlor in Anne Arundel County proved costly. The groups supporting and fighting the planned casino at Arundel Mills mall spent at least $10 million on their efforts — though the figure will rise when the anti-slots group releases additional information.
Anne Arundel voters overwhelmingly approved the casino project, though it appears the pro-casino forces were outspent. The most recent reports show that casino developer David Cordish, of the Baltimore-based Cordish Cos., dumped $2.7 million into his campaign account in the last few weeks before the measure went to voters. In total, he spent $4.9 million on his successful campaign.
Updated figures were not available from the opposition group, called No Slots at the Mall, but as of mid-October the group had spent $5.2 million to rally voters against the project.
Final campaign finance reports for all state and local candidates, which covered Oct. 18 to Nov. 16, were due by midnight Tuesday, but only some have been made public because the State Board of Elections closed at 5 p.m. Tuesday and does not reopen until Monday.
O'Malley began the year with almost $5 million in his campaign coffers, compared with Ehrlich's $141,778. Ehrlich's latest report shows he raised $710,417 and spent $2.1 million in the last month of the race, a time during which polls showed O'Malley widening his lead. In that same period, O'Malley raised $860,176 and spent about $1.4 million.
The governor began advertising early, both in the Baltimore and Washington television markets, and with far greater frequency, moves that political observers said gave him an edge.
Todd Eberly, acting director of the Center for the Study of Democracy at St. Mary's College of Maryland, said O'Malley's sizeable advantage at the start of the race "gave him a huge advantage."
"If Ehrlich had gotten into this race sooner, he may have been able to blunt some of O'Malley's incredibly effective advertising campaign," Eberly said. "By the time Ehrlich had enough money to fight back, the tone and the narrative had been set. He made the classic mistake of letting his opponent to define him."
O'Malley steadily ramped up campaign spending over the four-year cycle, which spans January 2007 to the end of this year. He spent about $1 million last year, $102,000 in 2008 and $50,000 in 2007. Reports show that Ehrlich, who has worked in the private sector as a lawyer and radio host since leaving office, spent about $86,000 last year, $67,000 in 2008 and $388,000 in 2007.
In addition to money spent by the candidates, the Democratic Governors Association, of which O'Malley is vice chairman, and the Republican Governors Association each poured about $4 million into the race.
Ehrlich's final report also shows that $14,000 was spent in two payments to campaign operative Julius Henson in the week before the election. Henson, hired by Ehrlich earlier in the election season, ordered up a batch of robocalls to more than 112,000 voters hours before polls closed on Election Day. The message was that O'Malley had already won and that voters should "relax" and watch the results on TV.
Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler filed a civil suit against Henson, alleging that the operative intended to intimidate voters and suppress votes.
In all, Ehrlich appears to have paid Henson about $111,000 this year. During the four-year cycle, many Democrats also used Henson's services. His firms, Universal Elections and Politics Today, took in about $763,525, mostly from Democratic politicians in Baltimore and the Washington suburbs.
This year, the District 45 Unity Team, a group of Baltimore Democrats led by Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, paid Henson $37,000 for campaign materials. He netted at least $75,000 from Del. Gerron Levi, a Prince George's County Democrat who this year mounted a failed bid to become county executive.
Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young paid Henson more than $30,000 this year for consultant services but cut ties with Henson after the robocall scandal erupted.
In the governor's race, running mates pitched in with fundraising.
Ehrlich's running mate, Mary Kane, a Montgomery County resident and former executive with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, raised $118,714 over the course of the campaign, including $6,000 from Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele's Maryland account. (He also gave $6,000 to Ehrlich in September.)
Kane joined Ehrlich's team at the end of June. She is now mounting a bid to lead the Maryland Republican Party. The election takes place at the state party's annual convention next month in Annapolis. As chairwoman, Kane's primary duty would be fundraising for the party. Her husband, John Kane, was party chairman when Ehrlich was governor, from 2003 to 2007.
The latest campaign finance reports also show how much money potential future candidates have on hand as they plan their next moves.
Gansler, who was unopposed in the primary and general elections this year, has more than $2.7 million in the bank. Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown has $264,627 available. Comptroller Peter Franchot reported $390,500 in leftover cash, and Howard County Executive Ken Ulman reported $486,834; both faced general election challengers.
All four Democrats have been discussed as potential candidates in the 2014 gubernatorial race.
Baltimore Sun reporters Annie Linskey and Larry Carson contributed to this article.