By Kate Alexander
WASHINGTON – Maryland’s Republican Party raked in more campaign cash at its inaugural gala this month than at any other fund-raising event in the state party’s history, said Chairman Michael Steele.
Capitalizing on the fervor over the presidential inauguration, the state party’s gala event at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 18 grossed about $150,000. Steele said the party netted $75,000 from the event, about 50 percent more than it normally takes in at its main fund-raiser, the annual Red, White and Blue Dinner.
“It shows the excitement and commitment people still have even after some frustrating losses,” he said.
But Paul Rensted of Maryland Common Cause said all it really shows is that some people can afford to buy political access while others are left out in the cold.
“Every citizen doesn’t have the money to underwrite these events. . .but every citizen in Maryland wants an equal shot” at being heard by their elected officials, Rensted said. The imbalance created by this kind of influential opportunity underscores the need for campaign finance reform, he said.
More than 600 guests paid at least $250 a ticket for the formal event, which was hosted by Dorothy Bush Koch, a Montgomery County resident and sister of President George W. Bush.
A select group of party loyalists paid $1,000 a ticket for a VIP reception to meet former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, who later addressed the larger crowd.
Guests were entertained by the country-western trio the Gatlin Brothers and treated to finger food and an open bar.
Other Republican heavyweights who stopped by the Maryland gala included Labor Secretary-designate Elaine L. Chao, her husband Sen. Mitch McConnell, R- Ky., and Rep. J.C. Watts Jr., R-Okla. Maryland leaders in attendance included GOP Reps. Robert Ehrlich of Timonium, Connie Morella of Bethesda and Roscoe Bartlett of Frederick.
Corporate sponsors of the event included cable giant Comcast, hotel and food services chain Marriott and telecommunications provider Verizon, each of which contributed $5,000. The Scarborough Group, an Annapolis investment firm, purchased $4,000 of tickets for its employees, said owner Mike Scarborough, a frequent Republican Party supporter.
Other corporate sponsors with contributions over $1,000 were: Manitowoc Marine Group; Atlantic List; Cross & Company LLC; Kelly & Associates; Political Solutions; and Washington Development Group.
But Steele boasted that the gala also attracted more than the usual suspects. Over half of the guests were new contributors attracted by the changing direction of the Republican Party, he said.
“We landed in a big way last week on the national scene, and my job now is to keep us there,” Steele said. “If I do my job right, we will be a force to reckon with in 2002.”