ANNAPOLIS – General Assembly elections grew more expensive this year – especially in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore – as competitive races and more sophisticated campaigning led candidates to raise unprecedented amounts of money.
In the Senate, 27 candidates raised at least $200,000 in their election bids and two others raised more than $195,000. In House races, 26 candidates banked $100,000 or more since 1998.
The volume of money, observers said, is a clear increase over previous elections.
“That’s up quite a bit,” said Paul S. Herrnson, director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland, College Park, indicating that up has been a long-running trend. “Is that unusual? Every year I’ll give you the same answer. This was a very high-spending year in Maryland.”
Leading the way in Senate races was Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, who raked in more than $1.3 million in personal and district or county slate committee funds.
In calculating campaign receipts, Maryland attributes all donations to a slate committee, which is comprised of several candidates, to each of the candidates on that slate, even though all of the amount would not be available to a single candidate. Statewide slate totals were excluded from analysis because they would distort the totals.
Sens. Alex Mooney, R-Frederick, and James E. DeGrange Jr., D-Anne Arundel, and Sen.-elect E. J. Pipkin, R-Queen Anne’s, raised more than $650,000 each, when their local slate and personal campaign funds are included.
C. Sue Hecht, Mooney’s opponent, raised $363,000 herself in what may be the most expensive state Senate race in Maryland history-with more than $1.2 million spent. Five other Senate candidates raised at least $350,000.
In the House, Speaker Casper R. Taylor, D-Allegany, raised $867,000 in a losing re-election bid, while Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, raised $617,300 and was returned to office.
A handful of delegates raised more than $300,000.
Theories for why State House races have become more expensive are as varied as political contributors.
Maryland’s two competitive House of Representatives races and a tight gubernatorial contest – the most expensive in state history – may have contributed to the increase in State House campaign contributions, Herrnson said.
“People spend what they can in those races (federal and gubernatorial) and then they spend what they can in races that overlap those districts,” he said.
General Assembly redistricting earlier this year, said Annapolis lobbyist Bruce Bereano, could be another reason for the increase in State House fundraising. The state Court of Appeals map, he said, ignored politics and created more competitive races.
Candidates are also working harder to raise money, he said, and employing mass mailings and phone calls to roust donors.
“Things have gotten more expensive all around,” said Bereano. “There are also more techniques being used . . . Those new techniques and approaches have dramatically increased the cost of campaigns.”
Bereano has more than 30 years experience guiding interest groups in Annapolis — some of them ranked among the largest General Assembly donors — yet, even he was surprised by the sums, especially the Mooney and Pipkin totals.
“I’ve just never known or heard, ever, of that amount of money being spent in a state Senate race, Bereano said. “The amount of money is just amazing. By any measurement, the Mooney and Pipkin races are highly unusual and break any precedents.”
General Assembly candidates are also more savvy in conducting campaigns, said Democratic Party spokesman David Paulson. Democrats, he said, trained their candidates in the finer points of campaigning — fundraising included — prior to the election.
“In general, what you’ll find is that more and more of these races are no longer mom and pop campaigns,” he said, citing the effects of consultants, polling and professional fund-raising. Modern campaigning, and efficient, effective fundraising, was his best explanation for the increase in money.
In the past, Paulson said, $25,000-$30,000 was the typical expense for a delegate seat and three times that, or about $100,000, was typical in Senate elections.
Government reformers said they worry about what effect the increase in spending might have on state policy.
“The inflation rate of elections is way out of control,” said Sean Dobson, electoral reform director for Progressive Maryland, which favors public campaign financing. “It’s insane — putting television ads on for a state Senate race?”
“It’s kind of surprising and paradoxical because most of the people raising a lot of money are not in competitive races,” he said. “. . . (Contributors) know they’re going to win and that’s the reason they’re giving the money.”
Dobson pointed to 52 tax exemptions identified by Progressive Maryland Tuesday as proof contributors are seeing return on their investment. Those exemptions included breaks on property taxes for utility companies and a sales tax exemption on large precious metals purchases.
Contributors may not be buying votes directly, he said, but the current campaign finance system makes it appear that way. By Dobson’s calculations, spending in Maryland’s gubernatorial race increased by 726 percent between 1990 and 2002.