By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 29, 2010; C01
Even in politically charged Montgomery County, candidate Kyle Lierman's donor list stands out.
Former presidential candidate Howard Dean. Irene Pollin, widow of real estate and sports mogul Abe Pollin. Robert Gallo, co-discoverer of the AIDS virus. Political commentator and Roll Call executive editor Morton Kondracke.
Not what you might expect from a 23-year-old business major who less than a year ago was still hitting the books at George Washington University.
But the big names, and many lesser-known donors, have helped Lierman become the leading fundraiser among challengers in the crowded Democratic primary field for three House of Delegates seats in District 16, which includes parts of Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Potomac.
It probably has not hurt that Lierman's father is Terry Lierman, former Maryland Democratic Party chairman and current chief of staff for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), a politician many seek to court. His mother, Connie, is a pediatric nurse at a District nonprofit organization. And Kyle expanded the family's network of friends and political allies on his own when he worked in Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.
"A lot of the people we know through my dad, my mom or me," said Lierman. "But I am my own man, and this is an independent race."
Lierman graduated in December, volunteered in Haiti with a group training masons to build earthquake-proof buildings, then returned home to learn that incumbent Bill Bronrott was leaving his delegate's seat to join the Obama administration. That led to a race for the three Democratic nominations in District 16 that has become unusually intense this year because of the open seat. The other two spots are held by incumbents who are probably tough to dislodge. Only the top three vote-getters out of the 13 candidates in the race will move on to the November general election, but in heavily Democratic Montgomery, the Sept. 14 Democratic primary is usually tantamount to victory in November.
To break out of the pack in District 16, money and name recognition are key. Lierman, who has collected $106,571 and has $42,778 in cash on hand, possesses both. Along with the big-name Democratic donors, Lierman has received contributions from more than 450 others -- who on average have contributed $222.48 -- while turning aside lobbyist and political action committee money.
The vast amount of cash, for a part-time job that pays $43,500 plus expenses, has helped Lierman create a sophisticated campaign apparatus. It includes several pieces of direct mail, house parties and hundreds of yard signs -- the mainstays of local races where big media buys are almost unknown. He has a small, paid staff, dozens of volunteers and an office in Bethesda where he often crashes. Technically, though, he's living at home in Bethesda.
The goal is to cover a lot of ground with Lierman's message: Improve Maryland's public schools, create jobs and increase the tax on alcohol to help deter drunken driving. He has also begun to question utility regulation because of Pepco's slow restoration of power in Montgomery after recent storms.
Lierman's fundraising prowess nearly equals that of incumbents Susan Lee, who has $132,564 in cash on hand, and Bill Frick, who has a cash balance of $72,818. Lierman's fundraising has outstripped the 10 other Democrats in the race. His closest competitors in fundraising among the challengers are Ariana Kelly, former Maryland executive director for NARAL Pro-Choice, and Hrant Jamgochian, director of health policy for United Way Worldwide, both of whom had raised about $25,000 as of Aug. 17, state records show.
Lierman doesn't shy away from the big supporters, but he also points to smaller donations, which include a handful of $5 contributions. And he and his volunteers have been knocking on doors and sending out mail to drum up support in his district.
"I have done all that I can do to ensure that if I am elected, I will be an independent voice for the people of District 16," he said.
Lierman's campaign finance report shows that he returned contributions from former congressman Michael D. Barnes as well as Vinny DeMarco, a well-known anti-smoking lobbyist from Maryland, and Nancy Zirkin of the Leadership Council for Civil Rights. Each is a registered lobbyist, Lierman said.
Not that he disagrees with their positions.
"I was honored to have their support," he said. "But if a lobbyist is right on the facts, the argument will speak for itself. They don't need to make a campaign contribution."