WASHINGTON – Maryland’s House members have a total of $2.2. million in campaign funds remaining after November’s general election, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
The state’s eight representatives have an average of $227,179 in their warchests, giving them a head start for the 2000 election cycle.
Cash on hand ranged from $498,743 for Rep. Steny Hoyer, D- Mitchellville, to $66,491 for Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, R- Kennedyville.
The lawmakers say the money is necessary to conduct legitimate campaigns, but a campaign watchdog says that incumbents’ money-raising advantage inhibits a fair democratic process.
“Democracy doesn’t work in a system where money is so prevalent,” said Celia Wexler, a spokeswoman for Common Cause, a campaign finance reform organization.
Maryland is not unique, Wexler said. Across the nation, incumbents of both parties hold large advantages in funds that allow them to cushion their re-election bids, she said.
In many cases, “the other major party doesn’t even bother to put up a candidate, there isn’t a real contest. The whole point of democracy is for voters to have a choice,” she said.
That was the case in Maryland in 1998, where most of the incumbent House members had relatively comfortable races against under-funded candidates.
Even Rep. Constance Morella, R-Bethesda, who ran the costliest House race in the state, was able to emerge with a healthy bankroll for her next campaign.
Morella, who spent $790,449 to beat back a challenge from well-funded Democrat Ralph Neas, finished the campaign with $244,204 in the bank.
A campaign staff member for Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Largo, said that the funds are necessary to conduct a serious campaign.
“The Washington media market is expensive, so we don’t use television,” the staffer said. “We had an exhaustive effort with 5,000 yard signs and 200 4-by-8 [signs].”
The staff member said Wynn also used some of his campaign funds to support the campaign of Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening in his tight race against Republican challenger Ellen Sauerbrey.
But the high cost of campaigning still does not seem to put a dent in the incumbents’ bank accounts, who are able to build a cushion over the years that gives them a jump on the next election cycle.
Of the $330,499 he raised in 1998, for example, Wynn spent all of it on his campaign or on contributions to other candidates’ campaigns. But because he started the year with a $222,676 cushion, he was able to end it with $185,347 on hand.
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, spent only 32 percent of the money he raised in 1998 on his campaign, the lowest of any of the eight Maryland House incumbents. But he said that he uses only what he feels is necessary.
“I try to be as careful with contributors’ and taxpayers’ money as I am with my own. I spend what needs to be spent and not a dime more,” Bartlett said through an aide.