Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) has raised more than $534,000 in campaign contributions toward his reelection effort in the past two months, according to summary reports released yesterday, the day he was sworn in as the state's 60th chief executive.
The contributions reflect an aggressive new GOP fundraising strategy targeted at keeping the governor's mansion and cutting into the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate in 2006.
For more than three decades, Democrats have controlled all branches of Maryland state government. Consequently, the state GOP had little hope of competing on the fundraising front. But with Ehrlich's election has come a new era of two-party government, one that state GOP Chairman John Kane hopes to capitalize on with what he calls a "conversion tax."
Kane said he has been studying campaign reports and noting which donors have traditionally given far more to Democrats than to the GOP. He is telling those donors that they should now be giving Republicans $1.25 for every $1 they give to Democrats.
"There is a conversion tax now -- 125 percent," Kane said. "To the victor goes the spoils."
House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery) criticized Kane's method. "It's really classless to openly say that," Barve said. "It may be a very effective shakedown strategy, but it isn't what I would do."
Kane said he merely hopes to equal the fundraising prowess Democrats have long exhibited.
Yesterday was the deadline for reporting campaign contributions received from Nov. 20 to Jan. 10 to the state Board of Elections. Though the reports are not yet public, a summary provided by the Ehrlich campaign shows that the governor is doing quite well.
The $543,000 comes on top of $1.6 million raised by a separate committee for yesterday's inaugural festivities, a lot of it from large corporate sponsors.
Much of the money raised throughout the campaign will pay for running a transition office from November through today; the state allocates $50,000, and fundraiser Richard E. Hug said Ehrlich had to spend far more on payroll and other expenses.
Ninety-three percent of the nearly 1,900 donors who gave to the Ehrlich campaign are from Maryland; the average contribution was $282.
Hug confirmed that the campaign is looking at past giving. Many of those attending five Ehrlich fundraisers in December were newcomers and had supported his opponent in the November election, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D), Hug said.
Although the Ehrlich campaign did not provide details on how much was raised in the past two months by Michael S. Steele, the new lieutenant governor, Hug said Steele was able to retire campaign debt from his unsuccessful run for comptroller in 1998.
Steele had to repay an overdue $25,000 loan from his sister, which was disclosed during the campaign, by the end of December. That's because state law requires that loans to campaign committees be repaid by the end of the next four-year election cycle or they are considered campaign contributions. In Steele's case, the $25,000 would have illegally exceeded the state's $4,000 contribution limit.
Kane did not have an exact figure on how much the GOP had raised during the last reporting period. But at one recent fundraiser at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the party raked in about $200,000, Kane said, with Ehrlich as the star attraction.
Donors from a host of state-regulated industries sipped drinks from the open bar and munched on hors d'oeuvres while horse track owners with an interest in legalizing slot machine gambling handed over checks, Kane said.
Unlike candidates and the federal party committees, state parties can raise unlimited soft money donations. But those contributions can be used for a narrow set of purposes, including "issue" advertising and slates of legislative candidates.