WASHINGTON – While some of the poorer members of Maryland’s congressional delegation are sitting on campaign bank accounts of $100,000, Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s fund raising has gone so well that she has plowed that much into meals and golf tournaments over the past three years.
In the Senate Restaurant, or in exclusive French restaurants like La Brasserie and La Colline, the Baltimore Democrat has had tabs as high as $1,640, according to her latest report with the Federal Election Commission. At The Monocle, described by one restaurant guide as “the place to go, as long as someone else is paying,” Mikulski reported bills from $563 to $1,058.
Other expenses include more mundane campaign business like supplies, trips, computers, donations to other Democrats and fund-raising consultants — the largest checks by far.
It seems to be paying off. Mikulski, who is up for re-election next year, has taken in more than $1.4 million since 1999 and has spent $820,878 in that period, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.
This year alone, Mikulski raised $936,819, spent $207,750 and, as of June 30, had just over $1 million in the bank, according to her latest FEC report.
Mikulski spokeswoman Liz Poston said the senator fully expects to run in 2004 and that fund-raising is an important piece of the campaign. But she said that no one in the office has been authorized to talk about details of her campaign fund raising and spending, and she would not discuss restaurant bills or other items.
But other political observers were not reluctant to talk about Mikulski’s fund raising.
With more than a year to go before the election, that amount of money can mean only one thing, said James Browning, executive director of Common Cause Maryland.
“To end the election before it starts, to scare the Republicans from going to the election,” Browning said. “And it seems to be working.”
But where Browning sees an insurmountable lead in fund raising, the executive director of the Maryland Republican Party sees a vulnerability. Eric M. Sutton said a three-term incumbent like Mikulski could have raised more by now and that could mean Maryland’s voters are starting to look the other way.
In her 1998 race, Mikulski received more contributions from in-state that from out-of-state. So far in this election cycle, she has reported getting 61.3 percent of her money from out-of-state donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
For Sutton, that means “she’s in the pocket of special interests.” He claimed that some of her votes have increased health care costs for children and obstructed homeland security.
“She’s not been there for Maryland’s people” he said.
Still, Sutton acknowledges that it will be tough to find a challenger. But he said the party is confident it will find one.
“We’ve got two candidates and we’ll make an announcement next month,” he said.
Browning believes Republicans will find the money to run someone against Mikulski, despite her current fund-raising advantage.
After Robert L. Ehrlich’s “dramatic” victory over former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in last year’s governor’s race, Browning said Republicans are “talking about Mikulski. She’s the next target.”