With the Maryland legislative session right around the corner, that can only mean one thing: Fundraisers. Lots and lots of them.
Lawmakers, according to one tally, have scheduled more than 40 such events in the week leading up to the start of their 90-day session Jan. 9. That’s when an annual ban on raising campaign cash kicks in and stays in place until mid-April.
“It’s the only opportunity we get until after session,” said Del. Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. (D-Baltimore) when asked about the annual crush of pre-session gatherings.
Mitchell, who has planned a Jan. 7 “happy hour” with tickets starting at $100, said a strong turnout right before lawmakers convene can serve another purpose, too. “Politically, it sends a signal who has strength and who doesn’t,” he said.
On Thursday morning, there were four fundraisers taking place at the same time all within a short walk of the State House in Annapolis, where lawmakers will gather at noon Wednesday.
Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles), chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, held a “pre-legislative breakfast” at the historic Governor Calvert House, which sits on the circle that rings the State House. Tickets started at $250 for the event, at which Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) was billed as host.
Two Republican senators were raising cash just around the corner: Sen. Allan H. Kittleman (R-Howard) at Galway Bay Irish Pub, and Sen. Christopher B. Shank (R-Washington) at the Maryland Inn.
Meanwhile, Del. Stephen S. Hershey (R-Queen Anne’s) was accepting checks upstairs at Harry Brownes, a well-known restaurant on the circle.
The biggest event of the day is scheduled for Thursday night: a gathering to fill the campaign coffers of House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel).
Tickets to Busch’s event at Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park in Baltimore start at $500. Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) is billed as the host but won’t be able to make it, an aide said.
The long-standing ban on raising money during session, which also applies to the governor, is intended to limit the appearance of — and actual instances of — influence-buying. But the measure is hardly a panacea, said James Browning, the regional director for state operations at Common Cause.
“It’s sort of illusory and naive to think that money given a week before session starts is going to less influential and problematic,” Browning said.
Some lawmakers hold events even closer to the deadline than that. Nine fundraisers are scheduled for Tuesday, the day before session starts, according to listings maintained by Schwartz, Metz & Wise, an Annapolis lobbying firm.