Friday, December 14, 2007

Who’s Got the Biggest War Chests in MoCo?

If you have not done this already, go visit the UMBC Maryland Campaign Finance website. It’s a fun research tool and you’ll learn things about politicians you won’t believe. For example: who’s got money and who’s broke?

We here at MPW are, as always, dedicated to our growing legions of devoted readers. As usual, WE will do the work so that YOU – the informed political consumers who know enough to visit us every day – can draw your own conclusions. So, let’s go to the data!

Broadly speaking, candidate finances are reported in five categories: receipts, expenditures, cash/account balance, in-kinds and outstanding obligations. Think of the difference between account balance and outstanding obligations as a political balance sheet. High balances with no obligations can be liquidated as political ammo immediately. Outstanding obligations are almost always loans that candidates make to themselves. With every dollar they spend, candidates with high outstanding obligations are deciding whether to keep running for office or replenish their depleted nest eggs. These being politicians, most will decide to buy that extra campaign sign.

The last financial reports came in as of 1/17/07. The next batch should be in around Valentine’s Day – fitting, don’t you think? Of course, a lot has happened over the last year but fret not – we will update you.

So which MoCo state legislators have the most money? Measured by campaign account balance, the three best-financed MoCo Senators were Jennie Forehand (D17 - $64,092), Brian Frosh (D16 - $41,667) and Rob Garagiola (D15 - $31,024). The three poorest MoCo Senators were Jamie Raskin (D20 - $4,821), Mike Lenett (D19 - $7,518) and Nancy King (D39 - $8,875). To be fair to King, she was only recently appointed to the Senate.

Among the MoCo Delegates, the three best-financed were Susan Lee (D16 - $66,027), Heather Mizeur (D20 - $38,869) and Jeff Waldstreicher (D18 - $32,158). The three poorest were Al Carr (D18 - $280), Brian Feldman (D15 - $338) and Saqib Ali (D39 - $391). To be fair to Carr, he was not a Delegate at the time of his last report.

It’s not just about account balance though. Remember those pesky outstanding obligations? Sometimes they’re not merely pesky – they’re absolutely colossal. I know it’s shocking, but some politicians will spend lots of their own money to win. The only three MoCo Senators who reported outstanding obligations were Mike Lenett (D19 - $160,000), Jamie Raskin (D20 - $20,000) and Rob Garagiola (D15 - $10,000). All had contested races and all of these obligations were loans to their own campaigns.

The Delegates who reported the largest outstanding obligations were Ben Kramer (D19 - $114,450), Roger Manno (D19 - $70,000) and Jeff Waldstreicher (D18 - $42,417). Again, all had seriously contested races and all of their obligations were loans to themselves. So dear reader, if you had to put in $100,000 of your own money to just have a shot at winning office, would you do it?

Now here’s the interesting part. Subtract outstanding obligations from account balances and which incumbents were the most solvent? Among MoCo Senators, the leaders were Jennie Forehand (D17 - $64,092), Brian Frosh (D16 - $41,667) and Rob Garagiola (D15 - $21,024). No surprises there. But two Senators actually had negative net assets – Mike Lenett (D19 – negative $152,482) and Jamie Raskin (D20 – negative $15,179).

Among the delegates, the leaders in net assets were Susan Lee (D16 - $66,027), Heather Mizeur (D20 - $38,869) and House Majority Leader Kumar Barve (D17 - $30,843). The worst off were Ben Kramer (D19 – negative $113,252), Roger Manno (D19 – negative $67,611) and Al Carr (D18 – negative $19,370). Seeing as how Kramer and Manno serve in the same district, they would be wise to run together on a slate to avoid bankrupting each other.

One note of caution. Many of these candidates have joint slate accounts that pay for multi-candidate signs and mailings. Those who stick together on slates and collect the Apple Ballot need less money to win (and almost always do win). So monetary weakness does not always equal political weakness.

What about potential Delegate challengers? Jean Cryor (D15), Joan Stern (D39), Aaron Klein (D20), appointment candidate Hugh Bailey (D39) and Ryan Spiegel (D17) all finished with positive account balances, though Bailey and Spiegel had very little money left. Regina Oldak (D16), Paul Griffin (D19), Alec Stone (D19) and Dana Beyer (D18) all finished with five-digit outstanding loans to themselves. Beyer’s outstanding loan total – $75,000 – was only exceeded by Lenett and Kramer. These four candidates will probably have to choose between running for office again or making a down payment on that Eastern Shore beach cabin we all want. Crab-loving hedonist that I am, I’d take the beach cabin.