WASHINGTON – Halfway through his current term, Sen. Paul Sarbanes has spent most of the more than $230,000 he had after his last election and had just $16,331 on hand as of June 30, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
That makes Sarbanes’ campaign account the smallest among senators who are scheduled to stand for election in 2006.
But political analysts said the small bankroll should not be taken as a sign of weakness. The five-term Democrat from Baltimore typically does not raise money until two years before an election, they said.
“He’s an entrenched and a powerful senator,” who should be able to raise money easily as the election year approaches, said Nathaniel Persily, a University of Pennsylvania professor and election law expert.
But Persily pointed out it can also be dangerous to have a small amount of cash on hand in a campaign.
“Quality challengers are scared off by money,” he said. “Having a large amount of money can change the field.”
James Browning, executive director of Common Cause of Maryland, agreed.
“Democrats in power tend to build up large war chests,” he said. But Browning added that Sarbanes also “enjoys a lot of advantages of incumbency … he gets his name out there on big bills.”
FEC records show that Maryland’s senior senator has not been a perpetual campaigner in the past — at the end of 1996, his campaign reported having only $4,648 in cash. By the time of his 2000 election, however, he was able to raise $2.3 million and spent about $2 million to easily defeat Republican challenger Paul Rappaport. Sarbanes outspent Rappaport by $1.85 million, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, and captured 63 percent of the vote.
Since that time, most of the activity in Sarbanes’ campaign account has been money heading out the door.
After the 2000 race, the Sarbanes’ campaign reported having $230,334 in cash. Since then, the campaign has contributed about $95,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, $25,000 to the Democratic State Central Committee of Maryland and over $16,000 to other campaigns, according to an analysis by Political Money Line, a private research firm. The rest of the money went to campaign operating expenses, meals, post-election holiday cards and the like.
Sarbanes’ latest filing, for the period ending June 30, showed that his campaign had raised only $235 this year — all of that coming in the first three months of the year.
Persily pointed out that, by giving generously to Democratic committees now, Sarbanes may be investing in his own future.
The restrictions of the new McCain-Feingold campaign finance law might make fund raising hard for candidates like Sarbanes, who have historically raised money close to elections and might find it harder to do so under the new guidelines. Parties could step in to help in such a situation, Persily said.
“One might think the party will remember the donation down the road,” he said.
Neither Sarbanes’ office or his campaign could be reached for comment.