ST. PAUL, Minn. – Maryland’s political hue may be cool Democratic blue, but it’s still helping to keep Sen. John McCain’s campaign in the green.
Maryland government is dominated by Democrats, yet seven of its residents are in the top echelons of McCain’s fundraising team. They have raised at least a combined $900,000 for his presidential campaign, and are listed on his campaign Web site by name, city of residence and quantity of cash they pulled in.
Among them are a freelance writer, a former ambassador to Luxembourg, and the head of the Marriott hotel chain.
Potomac resident Gordon V. Smith is one such fundraiser, or “bundler.” The founder of Miller & Smith, a Virginia-based real estate firm, Smith raised nearly $100,000 for McCain.
Smith, 76, said in an interview that he accomplished this by tapping friends, colleagues and people he had “done favors for,” among others.
“Basically I called people I know, that I had worked with over a period of time,” he said. “I asked them to donate, and they donated.”
Government watchdog groups often criticize politicians for granting access and favors to top-tier fundraisers, but Smith said this doesn’t apply to all levels of elected officials.
For example, Smith said he could call certain members of Congress directly, but not the president.
“You’re not going to get a direct line to the president unless you’ve raised a hell of a lot more than I did,” he said.
McCain, who accepted the GOP presidential nomination Thursday night, lists more than 530 people who raised at least $50,000 for the campaign. There is no cap on the amount of cash fundraisers can bring in, though individual donors cannot give him more than $2,300, as per federal election law.
McCain, 72, has a history of supporting campaign finance reform, and ruffled conservatives by co-authoring the McCain-Feingold bill. Signed into law in 2002, the law bans soft money, or unlimited contributions made through political parties. It also restricts the ability of special interest groups to buy advertisements for or against particular candidates.
McCain’s Maryland bundlers, most of whom live in affluent Montgomery County, work in a range of industries, and most are high-ranking executives.
John W. Marriott Jr., who raised at least $100,000 for McCain, is CEO of Bethesda-based Marriott International Inc.; Charles H. Salisbury Jr., who raised at least $50,000, is president of Salisbury Broadcasting in Baltimore.
In addition, Peter Terpeluk Jr., a lobbyist with American Continental Group, raised at least $500,000. He was also a top fundraiser for President Bush and served as U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg during Bush’s first term.
The other Maryland bundlers, all of whom raised at least $50,000 are: Sarah Mott Freeman, a freelance writer in Bethesda; Benjamin R. Jacobs, founder of JBG Holding Co., a Washington, D.C., real estate firm; and Alex Johnson, an executive with Avalanche Advisors, a Washington-based lobbying group.
No one other than Smith could be reached for comment.
Raising large amounts of cash can be accomplished several ways, such as soliciting via telephone or inviting donors to a reception for the candidate.
According to Smith, such events are normally held at nice homes, where donors mingle and munch on hors d’oeuvres. The candidate also typically drops in to make a brief speech, answer questions and pose for pictures.
“You stand in line” for the photo, Smith said. “It’s really artificial.”
State politicians also hold fundraising events, but the amount of cash involved is typically far less, said some Maryland legislators.
Tony McConkey, a Republican member of the House of Delegates from Anne Arundel County, said his average campaign donation is $60. He spends $50,000 on a typical race, and counts his mother and a childhood friend as two of his top donors.
“I hate fundraising,” McConkey said. “Asking people for money is not very enjoyable.”