- The Washington Times - Monday, February 20, 2006

BALTIMORE (AP) — Political donors in Maryland are spreading cash to multiple candidates for governor — a telltale sign that donors think the contest this fall could be close.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, received contributions from 189 common donors.

Sixty-five donors gave to both Mr. Ehrlich and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, another Democrat seeking the nomination for governor.

The common contributions are hints to political watchers that the governor’s race may be close.

Donors may be giving to multiple candidates because they are not sure who will win. They are unlikely to shuffle money toward a candidate who they think has no chance of becoming governor.

An analysis of political giving by the Baltimore Sun in yesterday’s edition showed that at least four companies and eight persons gave to all three candidates.

At least 60 contributors, perhaps unsure of whether Mr. O’Malley or Mr. Duncan will win the Democratic primary Sept. 12, gave to both men.

The most generous donor was Constellation Energy, which owns Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. Constellation gave $4,000 to Mr. Ehrlich, $3,000 to Mr. O’Malley and $1,000 to Mr. Duncan.

Constellation spokesman Robert Gould said the energy company does not endorse candidates and that all three men are interested in energy policy.

Big Steaks Management, which owns several Ruth’s Chris steakhouses in Baltimore, gave the $4,000 maximum to Mr. O’Malley and $2,000 to Mr. Ehrlich.

David Sadeghi, Big Steaks’ chief operating officer, said the company is paying close attention to a proposed statewide smoking ban, but that the company’s varied support reflects wide-ranging opinions of its executives.

“We don’t try to align ourselves too much politically,” he said.

In all, 59 companies contributed to both Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. O’Malley last year, the analysis showed. Only one gave to both Mr. Ehrlich and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the Democratic candidate, at this same point in the gubernatorial campaign four years ago.

The frequency of multiple campaign contributions this year underscores how much earlier the election has gotten under way. It also suggests that people don’t know where the smart money lies.

The disclosure statements, which cover a period from Jan. 13, 2005, to Jan. 11 this year, show that Mr. Ehrlich raised nearly $5 million and had $8.4 million on hand; Mr. O’Malley raised $4.3 million, with $4.2 million in the bank; and Mr. Duncan collected about $1.3 million, with $1.4 million on hand. The next report is due Aug. 15.

Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, said giving to multiple candidates is common, but that most campaigns rely on contributions based on political party and positions.

“It’s a business decision for many givers, and it’s about getting access regardless of who’s in office,” Mr. Noble said. “But you still do see giving patterns that reflect an ideological view.”

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