While previous party chairs used the year after an election to stockpile cash, Rockeymoore Cummings spent 2019 building out a team that hired professional organizers, revamped the party’s logo, created a podcast, refashioned its social media account, spent $42,000 on polling, kept on election-year staff and contracted a new firm to handle fundraising for the 2020 Democratic National Convention.
On average, the spending outpaced fundraising by $31,350 per month.
Now her temporary successor has fired two consultants collectively paid $8,500 per month, ordered two others to justify their services and proposed a set of financial controls to limit how much latitude future party chairs have in spending.
“I have an obligation to be transparent,” acting party chair Cory V. McCray, a state senator from Baltimore City, said in an interview.
McCray wrote a letter delivered Friday to members of the Maryland Democratic State Central Committee that outlined what he called “a few areas of concern” and noted that the party spent more than it raised for nine out of the first 10 months of year.
McCray, who had been elected first vice chair of the party the same day in December 2018 that Rockeymoore Cummings defeated the incumbent chair, said he was unaware of the party’s spending until after he took over Nov. 11.
In the letter, first reported by the Baltimore Sun, McCray said he was motivated to “ensure that our financial decisions are sustainable in the long-term.” He is not running for the top job in the Dec. 7 party election to replace Rockeymoore Cummings.
Rockeymoore Cummings defended her leadership of the party in an interview, saying she was deploying a strategy new to Maryland.
“Instead of showing up five months before an election, we were building a party that could engage with voters year-round,” she said, adding that the organization has plenty of resources to operate. She said some promised donations have yet to land on the ledger, but regardless: “We have money in the bank.”
Other internal party documents provided to The Post showed that fundraising from small donors and events in 2019 were roughly on a par with other years.
Rockeymoore Cummings said contributions from senior Democratic elected officials — members of Congress, General Assembly leaders and county executives — to support the party had not yet been paid.
“The [election] cycle is two years, and a lot of their donations didn’t come in during my tenure,” she said. “That is money that is basically solid, that the organization can expect to receive shortly. . . . Senator McCray acted prematurely, and certainly he has to take strategy into account.”
Elijah E. Cummings, the late congressman who married Rockeymoore Cummings in 2008, donated more than twice as much to the party under his wife’s leadership as any of the other eight Democrats in Maryland’s congressional delegation, federal records show. (State records for other party leaders will not be filed until early next year.)
Rockeymoore Cummings worked on Capitol Hill for years, first as a staffer and then as a policy consultant. She briefly ran for governor of Maryland in 2018 but dropped out because of her husband’s health. She is one of 24 Democrats and eight Republicans running for Elijah E. Cummings’s seat.
Internal Democratic Party documents obtained by The Post show that between January and October 2019, Rockeymoore Cummings spent roughly $1.25 million and raised about $935,000 — a cash flow imbalance of about $313,000.
When she took over the party in December 2018, private treasurer’s reports show, Democrats had $743,891.47 in the bank. Two weeks before she resigned, it had $389,426.22.
“It’s pretty rough to spend more money than you have because you have no guarantee that you will raise it in the future,” said Terry Lierman, a longtime Democratic activist and former chair of the Maryland Democratic Party. “I didn’t do that. It doesn’t make it right or wrong, it’s just a different way do it.”
McCray said in his letter that he froze hiring for an organizer position and terminated contracts with Stephanie Mellinger Consulting, a fundraiser, and Fairmount Media Consulting, an email consultant. McCray also required another consultant, Coco B Productions, which was hired to raise money for the Democratic National Convention next year, to justify its $7,500 monthly fee. Rockeymoore Cummings hired Coco B. Productions instead of Rachael Rice Consulting, which had raised money for several past conventions. A fourth consultant, Mikki Waid Consulting, has also been asked to justify its $1,000 monthly fee, he wrote.
“We are currently reviewing all of the Party’s finances to determine whether a rightsizing of staff positions is necessary,” the letter said.
McCray also proposed creating a two-signature process for expenses so that someone outside the chair and direct staff would have access to spending as it is approved. He questioned whether large expenditures should also be subject to more oversight, pointing to a $42,000 poll that Rockeymoore Cummings commissioned without notifying the rest of the party’s elected leadership.
Ben Smith, the executive director Rockeymoore Cummings hired, said the team was executing a strategy born out of repeated concerns that Democrats were not as dominant in the state as they once were. The idea was to invest upfront to build relationships with activists and strengthen the party’s inroads into communities, rather than try to set up a big statewide apparatus in an election year.
It’s a model, he said, that parties in Ohio, Wisconsin and other swing states have used. He pointed out that — despite Maryland’s national reputation as a Democratic stronghold — Republicans won three of the past five governor’s races and nearly won a fourth.
“Maryland is a blue state, but we’ve got to work to make sure it stays a blue state,” Smith said. He added that creating a battle-ready Democratic Party in the off years is part of that plan “so that we have a plane that’s already assembled rather than trying to build it at the same time that we’re trying to fly it.”