High-stakes Md. ballot measures

With three weeks until the election, $53 million has poured into fights over high-profile ballot measures in Maryland, the vast majority going toward a slugfest over gambling.

As of late last week, companies with a stake in Question 7, which would allow a casino in Prince George’s County, had reported ponying up more than $47 million. That’s on pace to exceed candidate spending in the state’s past two governor’s races combined.

Meanwhile, fundraising records have provided the first glimpse of how much is being spent in a battle over same-sex marriage. The lead group advocating passage of Question 6 — to uphold a state law that allows gay couples to wed starting in January — reported late Friday having raised about $3.3 million.

The lead group opposing the law said it had raised $838,621 so far. The totals are expected to grow in coming weeks as both sides increasingly try to sway voters through television ads.

All told, money raised by the dueling campaigns on gambling has exceeded by a ratio of 10 to 1 that raised by all parties with an interest in the same-sex marriage battle.

“The difference is there are big, big economic interests involved in the gaming issue,” said state House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery), who supports both ballot proposals. “But I hope people don’t interpret this to mean marriage equality is any less important than whether there are slot machines in Prince George’s County.”

Other reports due Friday showed $1.5 million raised by the campaign to legalize the state’s version of the Dream Act. Approval of Question 4 would allow undocumented immigrants who meet certain conditions to pay reduced, in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities. Opponents did not report raising any money.

Also on the ballot is a question about whether the state’s congressional redistricting map should be scrapped.

Maryland voters will decide an unusual number of momentous cultural and economic questions on a single day next month.

Lawmakers have required more-frequent fundraising reports on the gambling measure than the others, so the high stakes had already become apparent for Question 7. Besides a Prince George’s casino, it would allow Las Vegas-style table games, such as blackjack and roulette, at the state’s five previously authorized slots sites. Last week’s reports showed that spending continuing to escalate.

MGM Resorts, which is angling to build a casino at National Harbor in Prince George’s, is by far the biggest-spending proponent, having given $17.4 million to the ballot-issue committee known as For Maryland Jobs & Schools.

Several other companies have contributed, including the Peterson Cos., developer of National Harbor, which has given $1.3 million, and a group led by Caesars Entertainment, which has given $3.4 million. Caesars is building a casino in Baltimore and wants to offer table games.

The only major funder of the opposition so far has been Penn National Gaming, which has reported giving $25.1 million to a ballot-issue committee called Get the Facts — No on 7.

Penn owns a casino in Charles Town, W.Va., that analysts say would take a significant hit if another large-scale venue opens in Maryland. The company has also expressed interest in building a casino at Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George’s but contends that the deck would be stacked against it in a competitive-bidding process with MGM.

Although both sides are spending most heavily on television advertising, they disclosed other strategies Friday. Proponents listed $450,000 for what they said is advertising connected to Washington Redskins football games; opponents listed a $50,000 payment to a Prince George’s group known as Family Faith Future for “grassroots advocacy.”

The same-sex marriage fight has drawn a much longer list of donors. Marylanders for Marriage Equality reported having more than 9,000 contributors from across Maryland and the country, many of them giving small amounts in favor of Question 6. The largest contribution from an individual was made by billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), who gave $250,000.

The campaign’s $3.3 million total includes more than $600,000 in donations from labor unions. Human Rights Campaign, a leading national gay-rights group, has provided more than $650,000 in direct and in-kind contributions.

The Maryland Marriage Alliance, which opposes Question 6, reported receiving most of its funds from two out-of-state groups: the National Organization for Marriage, which gave $400,000; and the Knights of Columbus, based in New Haven, Conn., which gave $250,000. More than 250 individuals made smaller donations.

Labor unions have also propped up the campaign to legalize the state’s version of the Dream Act.

More than $1.2 million of $1.5 million raised in favor of Question 4 has come from national and Maryland-based labor groups. Other than unions, the largest out-of-state contribution came from a California-based nonprofit group founded and led by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs, which gave $100,000.

Hundreds of smaller contributions, mostly from Maryland residents — but also from some prominent East Coast business leaders — round out the group’s fundraising.

Republican lawmakers, who led the state’s first successful voter petition drive in 20 years to get the issue on the ballot, reported raising no money to defeat Question 4. Del. Neil C. Parrott (R-Washington), who was instrumental in the petition drive, said it had not been his group’s plan to raise money.

Parrott said opponents thought that the idea of using state money to subsidize illegal immigrants’ tuition costs would be easily defeated once put to a popular vote.

But Parrott said his group has realized a need to change course. “We will raise money,” he said Saturday. “We’re starting that now.”

Parrott’s group also has not raised money to defeat Question 5, the referendum to repeal the new congressional map, which Democrats designed in part to unseat the state’s senior Republican, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett.

More from The Washington Post:

What the Maryland referendums mean

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
Aaron Davis covers D.C. government and politics for The Post and wants to hear your story about how D.C. works — or how it doesn’t.
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