In sign of lofty ambition, O'Malley launches federal PAC

In a sign of lofty national ambitions, Gov.Martin O'Malleyhas created a federal political action committee that could become a financial vehicle for a presidential run in 2016.

O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese confirmed Thursday that O'Malley has registered what is being called the O Say Can You See PAC with the Federal Election Commission. The PAC gives the governor a federal political vehicle for spending on races at both the national and state level.

Creation of the PAC was first reported Wednesday in the Washington publication Roll Call. In the modern political era, such a committee is practically a prerequisite  for a candidate to launch a presidential campaign.

Abbruzzese said the main focus of the PAC -- for now -- will be O'Malley's aims of winning two Maryland referendums and re-electing President Obama this year. Abbruzzese said that by having the federal PAC, O'Malley will be able to collect money from supporters to uphold bills allowing same-sex marriage and permitting in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants without having the gifts count against the donor limits in the 2014 Maryland election cycle for state offices. He said the governor could also used the PAC money to help friends in their races around the country.

The spokesman sidestepped questions about a possible 2016 presidential race, sticking with the O'Malley camp's insistence that it's too soon to discuss the governor's plans for that year. O'Malley, who must leave office after the 2014 election because of term-limits, has fueled speculation that he plans a 2016 race with a series of appearances on national political television shows as chairman of the Democratic Governor's Association and one of the chief surrogates for Obama's re-election.

Todd Eberly, an assistant professor of political science at St. Mary’s College, said such a PAC could raise O’Malley’s profile nationally. He said he doubted local issues were the PAC’s true purpose.

“He’s starting a PAC now for a referendum in November? It’s smart for them to say that, but we all know the reality,” Eberly said. “If you want to have influence nationally, you need to have favors you can call in, people that owe you. With this PAC, O’Malley can give money to other candidates in other states. Then he can go to them and say, ‘Oh say can you see that money I’ve given you in the past?’”

Eberly said O’Malley was smart to begin raising funds now in order to explore a presidential run.

“We all know politics is driven by an obscene money game these days,” he said. “O’Malley would be incredibly shortsighted and incredibly ill-advised to not get involved in that.”

Abbruzzese said the federal PAC will be a more appropriate vehicle for O'Malley to "continue to contribute to the national conversation" after he leaves the DGA post in December than his state-level Friends of Martin O'Malley campaign account. The spokesman said Friends account will be phased out in favor of a state-level O Say Can You See account.

In addition to letting O'Malley  muster more funds for the two 2012 ballot initiatives, the new federal PAC may give the governor a little more flexibility to play a role in Maryland's 2014 primary election, Abbruzzese acknowledged.

Abbruzzese said creation of the new federal PAC will require no immediate expansion of O'Malley's political operation. He said Marty Cadigan,  treasurer of the Friends committee, will remain in that role with the O Say Can You See committees -- a name derived from the Star-Spangled Banner as a nod toward O'Malley's longstanding interest in Maryland's role in the War of 1812.

O'Malley's focus on the ballot initiatives and his national political ambitions could be seen as intertwined. If the governor can prevail those issues, he could get a boost among key Democratic constituencies on the national scene -- particularly gays and lesbians looking for an elusive electoral win on the same-sex marriage issue and Latinos who would like to see a federal version ofMaryland's DREAM Act on college tuition.


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