By Alexandra Wilding
COLLEGE PARK – After years of quiet, donations from political action committees are exploding in the current election cycle to candidates in Maryland’s 1st District congressional campaign.
PACS contributed $1.1 million to candidates in the 1st District race between the last election and June 30, according to Federal Election Commission documents.
The 2010 election is on pace to exceed 2008 PAC funding, when candidates in the 1st District raised a total of $1.4 million, with donations likely to increase as Election Day approaches.
In the 2006 election cycle, by comparison, PAC donations to candidates in the 1st District totaled just $5,070.
The Cook Political Report describes the race in the 1st District as the only tight House race in Maryland this year.
Thus far, Rep. Frank Kratovil, a Democrat, had $1.32 million in the bank as of June 30, according to the FEC. Republican challenger Andrew Harris had about $900,000 and another Republican challenger, Robert Fisher Jr., reported having $238,974 on hand, according to FEC documents.
Kratovil is relying more on PAC funding, which accounted for 52 percent of his funding, whereas Harris received 81 percent of his funding from individuals, said Dave Levinthal, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics.
Jessica Klonsky, Kratovil’s campaign manager, said the campaign is trying to raise enough money to get Kratovil’s message out and is confident that it will be able to do so.
Harris’ campaign manager, Bill Lattanzi, pointed to the large amount of individual donations as evidence of a “grassroots commitment” to the candidate.
Fisher’s campaign is not looking for PAC money, said campaign manager Demetrios Karoutsos, since Fisher has essentially funded most of the race himself. But Karoutsos did not say the Fisher camp would reject PAC money.
In 2006, when then-Rep. Wayne Gilchrest won a ninth term in office from the 1st District, only 1 percent of his total campaign contributions, or $3,570, came from PACs, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Gilchrest, a Republican, built a career in the district accepting little to no PAC funding.
But by end of the last election, the 1st District was awash in PAC funds. Gilchrest took $204,008 from PACs in his Republican primary loss to challenger Harris.
While PAC funding might be new for the 1st District, it’s hardly new nationally. With the infusion of PAC funds into the congressional campaigns, the 1st District is essentially joining the standard for the rest of many parts of the nation.
“PAC money, to some degree, is flowing into every race,” said Levinthal.
State Sen. Richard Colburn, R-Cambridge, who ran unsuccessfully for the 1st District seat in 2004, called the high cost of running a campaign “unfortunate, but just the facts of life.”
When Colburn ran in 2004, he raised $182,936, with just $5,750 in PAC contributions, according to the FEC.
Levinthal said that money from a PAC could be donated by a corporation in hopes of getting better access to a candidate, whereas an individual could donate simply because they heard the candidate speak and liked their politics.
But Colburn said that with both Harris and Kratovil so well known in the district, “PAC money makes no influence and will just be wasted.”