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First Click, Maryland -- This week, money talks

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Thursday, August 12, 2010:

The Agenda
Aaron.jpgSix-point-seven million dollars. If you tuned into Maryland political news at all on Wednesday, the number was the headline. Gov. Martin O'Malley's (D) campaign reported that much in the bank with three months to go before Election Day.

For comparison, what reporters clamored for, and what we'll have to wait at least until today for, is the campaign bank statement of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

Voters can understandably grow tired and tune out news of politicians and their fund raising, but if there's one set of numbers to pay attention to this year in Maryland, it's those beginning to trickle out before a state deadline for the disclosures next Tuesday, Aug. 17.

Why? Since Maryland's fundraising disclosure laws remain antiquated, this week is the first time since January that those running for office in the Free State had to release lists of contributors, loans and expenses. The data help reporters and public watchdogs piece together the forces shaping public elections: Which political factions, and interests are supporting which gubernatorial candidates and why? Has voter angst about incumbents nationwide translated into fundraising power for the state's most well-known Republican challenger? Has Sarah Palin's endorsement of little-known businessman Brian Murphy made him a legitimate threat? Will Maryland Republicans or Democrats have the money to control the airwaves - and therefore the political messaging - in the final weeks before voters go to the polls? The numbers being released now will tell the story, and give us a window into who may be running Annapolis in January.

The Ehrlich campaign, (which had over $8 million four years ago when roles were reversed and Ehrlich was still in the governor's mansion) has this week tried to set expectations that his bank account will be far smaller.

Thumbnail image for o'malley-kickoff.jpgOn Monday, his campaign all but said it had raised $3 million by setting that as a public goal. On Wednesday, Ehrlich said the campaign was ahead of its plan, but acknowledged fundraising would lag behind that of O'Malley, whom he said as the incumbent this time around had a "a 3 1/2 -year head start."

Since January, O'Malley has raised $3.3 million, and spent about $2.3 million, leaving him with a million more than he had in the bank at the beginning of the year.

Ehrlich, who started with campaign pocket change eight months ago, may have raised nearly as much, the same or more than O'Malley since January. But in choosing not to release his figures on the same day as O'Malley, political insiders began buzzing that it may be likely that Ehrlich raised less than O'Malley's $3.3 million. They also questioned if Ehrlich may have already spent so much that he now has far less than half of what O'Malley has, making the discrepancy appear even larger.

While this week's numbers tell a story, they also foreshadow the remaining unwritten chapters of the O'Malley-Ehrlich rematch. Will the fundraising disparity, for example, prompt groups like the deep-pocketed Republican Governors Association to help out and close the gap? Or will the divide be so great that outsiders will pick battles in other states where a million or two may tip the balance?

-- Aaron C. Davis

News You Should Know

Ehrlich warns of tax hikes if not returned to office
Ehrlich taxes 1.jpg"Former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) on Wednesday pitched his plan to roll back a 20 percent increase in the state sales tax and raised the specter of numerous other tax hikes if he is not elected in November, telling a Baltimore County gathering 'what you see here is potentially our future.' Speaking to about three dozen people gathered on a back patio in the politically friendly territory of Dundalk, Ehrlich shared a list of 43 taxes on services, including gym memberships and automobile maintenance, that he said Democratic lawmakers could impose if he does not get his old job back," writes The Post's John Wagner. "Legislators considered but rejected many of the items on the list in a special session in 2007 during which they increased the sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent and raised several other levies to help address a looming budget shortfall."

O'Malley tries to balance push for purple line with criticism of Metro
"In between fundraising announcements and education events, the message of the O'Malley campaign this week has been transit. He's for it, O'Malley contends, and Ehrlich's against it. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the governor shook hands outside Washington-area Metro stops that might be connected by a proposed purple line, and he also sat down with backers of the rail expansion in a Silver Spring diner. (Ehrlich prefers a bus line, saying the state can't afford a multibillion-dollar rail project). O'Malley, who has repeatedly blasted Metro for safety failures in the wake of last year's deadly crash on the red line, however, has also found himself balancing two somewhat conflicting messages: Metro's safety and maintenance records are unacceptable, but the state should invest in a new rail line to increase Metro ridership. O'Malley told purple-line proponents that the two go hand-in-hand.Transit is the state's long-term future, he said, but there must be a "fix-it first" mentality. Metro must shape up or risk losing public confidence and ridership, he said. -- Aaron C. Davis

State purchases slot machines
Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Franchot.jpg"Maryland officials approved spending $32.7 million on Wednesday to buy or lease 750 slot machines for use at the Ocean Downs horse racing track near Ocean City," reports The AP's Brian Witte. "The Board of Public Works voted 2-1 to approve the contract. Comptroller Peter Franchot voted against it, while Gov. Martin O'Malley and Treasurer Nancy Kopp supported it. Franchot criticized the deal because only six of eight vendors met the 25 percent goal of minority business participation. He also opposed the idea of the state spending millions on slot machines that have yet to yield any revenue for the state. 'All over the state, even supporters of slots find it very difficult to understand the millions of dollars being paid out,' Franchot said. So far, the board has approved spending roughly $97 million to buy nearly 2,200 slot machines at two locations. The cost includes installation and maintenance. Lawmakers decided the state should purchase the machines to ensure greater oversight when they approved the framework for the slot machine plan in a special session in 2007."

O'Malley administration makes case for Race to the Top funds
"Gov. Martin O'Malley and state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick defended the state's application for up to $250 million in federal education funds in a 90-minute session Wednesday where they were peppered with specific questions about their proposed reforms," reports The Baltimore Sun's Liz Bowie. "With so much money on the line in hard economic times, the rules for the greatest education competition for federal dollars, called Race to the Top, have become very strict. Five reviewers for the U.S. Department of Education grilled the delegation of five Maryland officials in a highly structured meeting for 90 minutes exactly, beginning at 8:30 a.m. on the dot and ending at 10 a.m. ... 'We actually felt it was a good experience. We thought we operated well as a team,' Grasmick said."


Trust First Click for critical news and analysis you need to navigate Maryland politics. Each Monday and Thursday, First Click brings you The Agenda, a concise, forward-looking analysis of a top development in politics or policy. "News You Should Know" breaks down top stories from across the state. And other features keep you up to speed with power brokers in Annapolis and beyond. Want First Click on the go? Sign up for our free e-mail edition, and get the news delivered to your inbox or mobile device.

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By Aaron C. Davis  |  August 12, 2010; 9:21 AM ET
Categories:  First Click  | Tags: bob ehrlich, martin o'malley, maryland governor's race, maryland slot machines, metro, purple line, race to the top  
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