- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2003

ANNAPOLIS — As the 20-piece Mood Swing big band belted out a Motown oldie, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. triumphantly entered a hotel ballroom where seven months earlier he and jubilant Republicans had celebrated his victory over Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

But admission wasn’t free this time. Supporters of Mr. Ehrlich paid $1,250 — or $4,000 for a private reception — to help the Republican get an early start on raising money for the 2006 election.

Five months after his inauguration, Mr. Ehrlich has raised about $2 million for his planned re-election bid.

“It’s always good to have early money,” said John Reith, Mr. Ehrlich’s campaign finance director. “We’re going to slowly but surely build up momentum and continue to raise money over the four-year period.”

Mr. Ehrlich is getting an unusually early start on raising money, at least by Maryland standards. But nationally and in the state, candidates are quicker to jump into the money chase as the cost of campaigns steadily increases.

Former Gov. Marvin Mandel, a Democrat, says that three decades ago, he hadn’t started thinking about raising money for a re-election campaign until he was in the third year of his four-year term.

“Back in those days, fund raising was not as necessary as it is today. The cost of campaigning was nowhere near what it is today,” Mr. Mandel said.

“You can’t really find fault with the people just because they are going out and raising money, because it’s needed,” Mr. Mandel said. “In today’s world, they need that kind of money if they are going to run a decent campaign, whether you like it or not.”

The past two gubernatorial races indicate how fund raising has changed in Maryland.

Five years ago, Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey each topped the $6 million mark, shattering spending records. Last year, the two candidates for governor raised the bar several more notches, with Mr. Ehrlich collecting about $10.4 million and Mrs. Townsend about $8.5 million.

The election was barely over before Mr. Ehrlich’s campaign jumped back into the money chase.

Mr. Ehrlich raised more than $500,000 between the election and inaugural day, but Mr. Reith said about 80 percent of that was used to pay salaries for staffers until they went on the state payroll.

The campaign collected about $600,000 at the event Tuesday night, just a week after a breakfast with former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Guiliani took in about $800,000.

“I don’t want to make it sound like we’re out raising money every day,” Mr. Reith said. “We’re not going to be too aggressive.”

He said the campaign does not plan any big events for the rest of the year but will have a few house parties by supporters, fund-raising events used extensively in the 2002 campaign.

Mr. Ehrlich’s early fund-raising success poses a potential problem for the Democrat who winds up running against him in three years.

“Clearly, we don’t have, and never will have any time in the foreseeable future, that kind of fund-raising capacity,” said Isiah Leggett, chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party.

He said Republicans’ “connections to business and special interests” give them an advantage over Democrats.

David Paulson, spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party, said Mr. Ehrlich “is in permanent campaign mode, which is just about the only thing he knows how to do well.”

Kevin Igoe, a Maryland-based Republican political consultant, said everyone involved in campaigning for public office “understands that early money can be of more help that late money.

Because of state limits on campaign contributions, donors who give early on to one candidate have less money to hand out to competitors as election day draws closer.

Until recently, Democrats usually far outpaced Republicans in fund raising because statewide Republican candidates had little, if any, chance of winning.

But that changed in 1998, when Mrs. Sauerbrey raised a little more money than Mr. Glendening, and Mr. Ehrlich did even better last year.

Joyce Terhes, Republican National Committee member from Maryland and former state party chairman, remembers when Republican candidates filed for office knowing they could not match Democrats when it came to raising money.

“We were not truly a viable party,” she said. “Democrats have now found out we can raise money and win statewide elections. It’s a whole new ball game.”

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