Maryland gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous is getting a large infusion of cash from outside groups just as early voting begins in the June 26 Democratic primary, including hundreds of thousands of dollars from donors connected to a social advocacy group that helped Stacey Abrams win the Democratic nomination in Georgia.
The spending by the Maryland Together We Rise PAC and a second coalition of progressive groups will total about $1 million over the next two weeks — considerably more than either Jealous or his top rival, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, had in the bank as of the most recent reporting deadline. Early voting begins Thursday.
Political analysts say the money could be a game-changer for Jealous, a first-time candidate, freeing up his own resources and paying for television ads, canvassers and get-out-the-vote efforts on Election Day.
“For the work that an independent expenditure does, it’s work that your campaign doesn’t have to do,” said Mileah Kromer, a political-science professor at Goucher College. “The best way to get people to vote is to knock on doors, and this allows you to pay for an army of canvassers.”
Steve Phillips, a political strategist who is trying to build a “new American majority” coalition of people of color and liberal whites, donated $100,000 to the Maryland Together We Rise PAC as part of the fundraising effort. Phillips has worked with Jealous on ballot initiatives and on behalf of politicians, including former president Barack Obama.
He and Pat Lippold, who is chairing the PAC, said they are seeking guidance from the organizers of PowerPAC.org, a California-based social justice group that backed Abrams and promotes candidates of color with a progressive agenda. Both groups see Jealous as part of a wave of left-leaning Democratic candidates who can push back again Republicans in Congress and President Trump.
“The stakes are so high with what is happening in the country with the president,” said Phillips, founder of Democracy in Color, a multimedia effort to promote the idea that the future of the Democratic Party lies in the growing diversity of the country. “There is a lot of enthusiasm for people like Ben and Stacey Abrams to be the new political leadership in this country.”
Baker, a former state lawmaker who has the support of much of Maryland’s political establishment, has not generated any comparable outside support in the governor’s race. He has backing from the Maryland First PAC, but that group had raised only $16,500 as of the most recent campaign filings. Officials listed on the filings could not be reached.
Jealous and Baker are in a tight race at the top of a field that includes four other candidates who are polling in single digits. Baltimore attorney James L. Shea had $1.4 million to spend as of the May 15 filing deadline; candidate Krishanti Vignarajah had more than $500,000, state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. had about $305,000 and Alec Ross had about $200,000. Jealous had $660,000 cash on hand, and Baker had $577,000. New campaign finance reports are due Friday.
Maryland Together We Rise recently spent nearly $400,000 for pro-Jealous television ads in the expensive D.C. market, where Jealous lagged far behind Baker in a June 5 Washington Post-University of Maryland poll. The ads, designed to target blacks, women and young voters, will run on 12 cable stations, including BET, OWN, ESPN, HGTV, Lifetime and CNN.
In addition to the contribution from Phillips, an April filing for Maryland Together We Rise listed $100,000 contributions from the Service Employees International Union 1199 and from Quinn Delaney, a self-described donor activist.
Delaney founded the Akonadi Foundation, a California-based group that supports social change movements that tackle structural racism.
The group also includes the Maryland State Education Association, which endorsed Jealous, as one of its major contributors.
Several of Jealous’s Democratic primary rivals have criticized him for welcoming help from independent expenditure campaigns. They argue that the former NAACP president in the past has been a leading voice against big money in politics but now is benefiting from it.
“I find it ironic that somebody who says they are for campaign finance reform goes out and gets two individuals to donate a bunch of money,” Baker said Wednesday at an event with Valerie Ervin, a longtime Maryland activist and politician who dropped out of the governor’s race Tuesday night and endorsed Baker. “We knew all along that outside interests, outside of the state, would have an impact in this election.”
Madaleno, the only gubernatorial candidate who is accepting public financing, said Jealous appears to be “okay with super PAC money if it’s spent on his behalf. . . . Maryland needs a governor who will not only say when things are wrong, but also be the example of what is right.”
Jealous spokesman Kevin Harris said that the campaign does not coordinate or control the PACs and that it is “hypocritical” for Baker and Madaleno to criticize Jealous, given that both sought the endorsement of the progressive groups and unions.
Appearing alongside Ervin and Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), Baker said Wednesday that he believes voters are looking for leaders with government experience. If he becomes governor, he said, both Ervin — a former Montgomery County council and school board member — and her former running mate, former Baltimore County school board member Marisol Johnson — would play roles in his administration.
Baker said he is counting on the strong backing of Maryland’s political establishment to get his name on sample ballots and boost his field operation. He said he will continue advertising in the Baltimore area, where he trails Jealous and has little name recognition.
“People know where our money is coming from,” Baker said. “But when you have these outside super PACs that show up at the last minute, who knows about that?”
The other independent pro-Jealous campaign is a coalition of progressive groups and labor unions that is being run by Our Revolution Maryland, Progressive Maryland and the Working Families Party.
It announced last week that it is spending about $500,000 on direct mailings, phone banks, emails, digital advertising and hiring six professional organizers to recruit and train volunteers in Baltimore City, Montgomery, Prince George’s and Baltimore counties.
Stacey Mink, a spokeswoman for the group Working Families Party, said the coalition plans to knock on a quarter-million doors in the heavily Democratic jurisdictions.