Md. County Execs Have Funds but No Foes
By Manuel Perez-Rivas and Jackie Spinner
All three county executives had nearly $200,000 or more on hand, according to campaign finance reports filed this week. Those sizable campaign war chests are likely to scare off cash-strapped challengers, political analysts said.
Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) has raised $792,047 since 1994, far outdistancing the two other county executives. But Curry has spent $536,387, leaving a balance of $255,660. Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) has raised $299,671 during the same period and reported a balance of $199,600. Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary (R) has taken in nearly $460,000, putting him on pace to set new fund-raising records for the office there. Gary has a cash balance of about $236,000.
The three executives have all been touted as potential contenders for higher statewide office one day. Several political analysts said Maryland's limits on fund-raising during a four-year election cycle encourage politicians with ambitions for higher office to begin amassing campaign funds earlier in their career, a trend critics said only increases the opportunities for influence-buying.
"It's troubling to me that the only way people can get elected is by going to special interest groups," said Stan Fetter, a director of the Prince George's County Civic Federation Inc., an umbrella group of county citizens organizations. "I have a great deal of respect for Wayne Curry. He's a smart guy, but sometimes I do worry about who's pushing the wheelbarrow."
Duncan, like his counterparts in Prince George's and Anne Arundel, said his fund-raising efforts merely reflect the fact that he expects a challenge in both the primary and general elections.
"There will be a clear challenger at some point in the future," he said, "and you need money to run two campaigns."
Larry Telford, Gary's campaign manager agreed: "Politics is more and more being dominated by people who are personally wealthy. The fact that you're ahead one day doesn't mean that you're ahead down the road."
Larry Gibson, a close friend of Curry's and a key campaign strategist in 1994, said the kind of campaign Curry will run this time depends on who, if anyone, emerges as his opponent.
"At the moment, there's no perceptible opponent," Gibson said. "If an opponent or opponents emerge, I'm sure [Curry] will be prepared politically, financially and in terms of personnel to respond."
J. Brad Coker, president of Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research Inc., said the incentive to raise money can be acute for first-term officeholders who want to erase any question that they might be vulnerable.
"They are trying to raise money to scare away any opposition, because if a candidate is running unopposed, that's the best way to go," Coker said.
In Maryland, candidates can receive no more than $4,000 from any one individual, corporation or other group during a four-year election cycle. And contributors can give no more than a total of $10,000 toward state races during one election cycle.
As a result, candidates must rely less on large donors and find many small contributors, which takes time. And if politicians don't start raising money early in their careers, they run the risk that contributors will have reached their statewide limit on other races.
Still, Deborah Povich, executive director of Common Cause-Maryland, a political watchdog group, believes Maryland's limits on political contributions need to be lowered. "Four thousand dollars is a huge contribution," she said. "I think the contribution limits in Maryland are too high. Most citizens could never even consider such a contribution. It's something only the wealthy can afford."
The campaign finance reports for the three executives show sizable donations from developers. Curry, for instance, collected $1,725 from Greenbelt-based Bozzuto & Associates Inc., whose owner, Thomas S. Bozzuto, is the president of the Suburban Maryland Business Industry Assocation.
Bozzuto is fighting against new development taxes in Prince George's and next week plans to testify before the County Council at a public hearing.
Companies headed by Kenneth Michael, a longtime friend and one of the most successful developers in the county, have contributed at least $3,500 to Curry's campaign. The Takoma-Langley Taxi Association contributed $5,600.
Several key county officials contributed to Curry's campaign, including Greg Wells, a lawyer-friend and campaign manager whom Curry appointed as the people's zoning counsel when he was elected, contributed $4,000.
Of Duncan's total, $19,200 came from political action committees. And developers accounted for many of his larger contributions.
Hotel owner and developer Choice Hotels International Inc., of Silver Spring, gave $4,000 to Duncan's campaign, and Stewart Bainum, one of the company's largest shareholders, and his wife added $1,500 each. Another Silver Spring real estate company, Realty Investment Co. Inc., gave Duncan $4,000. Los Angeles-based Westfield Development Co., which owns Montgomery Mall and recently bought a majority stake of Wheaton Plaza, also contributed the maximum $4,000.
Much of Gary's funds have come from development interests and companies that do business with the county. The largest: Raymond Streib, president of Development Facilitators Inc., whose company has won more than $470,000 worth of county contracts in the last two years. Since 1993, Streib, his wife and his firm have given Gary's campaign more than $9,000.
Sturbridge Development Co., which last summer received county approval for a shopping center -- the Village at Waugh Chapel -- has contributed $3,950 to date.
The reports also show how the candidates have changed their spending patterns as incumbents.
In 1994, Curry ran as a newcomer, and campaign treasurer Patricia Bendross said he spent much of his money getting his name out. This year, he spent $50,000 on polling with Peter D. Hart Research Associates in August and September, campaign records show. In July and August, Curry paid more than $15,000 for consulting to Lanham-based Strategic Field Associates.
Ervin Reid, president of Strategic Field, said his firm manages Curry's fund-raisers and public relations. He said Curry is concentrating on "people-raisers" this time. People-raisers are fund-raising events that don't attract big donations but rally grass-roots supporters.
"He's really cognizant of the fact we need a good balance," Reid said. "These little donations tend to come from your volunteers."
Staff writers Peter S. Goodman and Eugene L. Meyer contributed to this report.
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