WASHINGTON – How did Maryland’s eight House members spend just under $6.8 million on 2004 campaigns in which they faced weak opposition?
In many instances, they gave away money to friends.
Donating funds to colleagues was one of the most common uses for the huge war chests amassed by the state’s House members, who also bought radio and TV advertising, paid pollsters and consultants, hosted bull roasts and shelled out for volunteers’ pizza, on the way to easy re-election.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mitchellville, who spent more than $1.7 million in this election cycle, was the most generous with his campaign funds. He took advantage of campaign finance laws that let members give excess funds to other candidates to give to scores of other Democrats around the country.
“It’s a pretty common practice,” said Christopher Deering, a George Washington University political scientist. “There is party pressure from the top, from leadership, to contribute to the collective efforts of the party.”
Hoyer, who is the second-ranking Democrat in the House, must be trying to teach by example: FEC expenditure data shows he turned over almost $400,000 to Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in addition to his direct donations to campaigns.
While Hoyer spent a large chunk of his money on other races, Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Baltimore, spent a majority of his campaign funds getting two things: Air time and advice.
Cardin’s campaign managers pledged earlier in the year to spend $1 million on the re-election bid. They came close to that amount by investing heavily in “network media buys” and hiring consultants and pollsters.
Cardin spent more than $400,000 to produce and air ads on local TV stations that showed him playing cards with voters and canoeing on the Chesapeake Bay, among other activities.
“He was playing cards with seniors and sitting in that little canoe kayaking up the Chesapeake every day for three weeks,” said Bob Duckworth, the Republican who challenged Cardin.
Duckworth said he dreamed up his own ads to respond to Cardin’s “cards and canoe” ads, but did not have the money to execute them. Duckworth’s entire campaign spending, at $137,539, was just a fraction of what Cardin spent on TV ads alone.
“It depended on the money and we didn’t get enough,” Duckworth said.
Candidates also spent money on consultants who helped them raise more money. Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, spent $38,260 with Morgan Meredith and Associates, a consulting group that focuses on direct-mail fund-raising solicitations.
Todd Meredith, a partner at the firm, said that direct-mail is more effective than other modes of political communication because “it’s got (the donor’s) name on it, it’s personalized.”
Getting the candidate’s message out might be the most important part of the campaign, but there are other, littler things that should be attended to: Like keeping the stomachs of staffers full.
Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Largo, tended to that need on March 2, primary election day, with a $265 campaign check to Dunkin’ Donuts.
-30- CNS 12-10-04