Some of the hardest-fought elections in Maryland this year will be races for county executive in the state’s biggest jurisdictions.
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Some of the hardest-fought elections in Maryland this year will be races for county executive in the state’s biggest jurisdictions.
Competitive general elections for county executive will be waged in Anne Arundel, Frederick and Howard counties, with tough primaries on tap in Anne Arundel, Frederick, Harford and Montgomery counties on June 28. Although money isn’t everything in these elections, the candidates’ latest campaign finance reports, filed last week with the Maryland State Board of Elections, provide some clues for where these contests are at the moment.
In Anne Arundel County, which has become the most purple of Maryland’s biggest jurisdictions, first-term County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) raised more money in direct contributions over the past year than any of the Republicans seeking to take him on in the fall.
But County Councilmember Jessica Haire (R) supplemented her fundraising with a $500,000 loan, leaving her with far more money in her campaign account than any of the other contenders, including Pittman. She’s in a four-way Republican primary with former state Del. Herbert R. McMillan, former county Councilmember John Grasso and business consultant Chris Jahn.
Haire, an attorney and the wife of Maryland Republican Party Chair Dirk Haire, is the favorite of the state and county’s Republican establishment, and her campaign finance report showed her raising $317,729 from mid-January 2021 until Jan. 12 of this year. She reported tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from Anne Arundel businesses, thousands from Annapolis lobbyists, along with donations from many fellow Republican politicians.
Anne Arundel County Del. Nicholaus R. Kipke, a former House minority leader, kicked in $6,000, according to Haire’s report. Cecil County Executive Danielle Hornberger (R) donated $6,000. Former Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall, a Republican turned Democrat turned Republican, who served most recently as Maryland Health secretary, contributed $1,000. Another former Anne Arundel executive, Steve Schuh (R), who was ousted by Pittman in 2018, chipped in $500.
Haire reported loaning her campaign $500,000 on Jan. 12, the final day of fundraising in the current reporting period. That left her with $619,094 in her campaign account.
Haire spent zero on campaign salaries over the past year, but has spent $260,159 on media — including more than $60,000 per month over the past three months for ads airing on the Fox News Channel. Her biggest expenditures included $141,484 in payments to Strategic Partners & Media, an Annapolis firm headed by national Republican media guru Russ Schriefer where Douglass V. Mayer, a longtime adviser to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) works; $81,860 for online ads to McShane LLC, a Republican consulting firm based in Las Vegas that has worked steadily in Maryland and has been linked in recent media reports to the Proud Boys; $30,000 to Ossola Consulting, an Annapolis-based GOP fundraising firm; and $27,398 to Mentzer Media, a Towson firm.
A poll recently conducted for Haire’s campaign by the Tarrance Group, a national Republican survey firm, showed her leading McMillan, 38% to 24%, in a hypothetical matchup. Haire’s campaign finance report showed a $13,000 payment to the polling company.
McMillan, who served three terms in the House of Delegates and one term on the Annapolis City Council, reported raising $241,731 in the past year and finishing the reporting period with $197,684 on hand after spending $71,570.
McMillan reported $6,000 in contributions from former Maryland GOP chair James Pelura III, an Davidsonville veterinarian, and his wife, Marianne Pelura; a $6,000 contribution from former Anne Arundel County Councilmember Jerry Walker (R), who clashed with Dirk Haire and Kipke during the 2018 election and served as the county’s economic development director in the early part of the Pittman administration; and $4,100 from Stacie MacDonald, a wealthy conservative activist in the county who has also been at odds with the Republican establishment.
Grasso, who entered the county executive race earlier this month, had just $100 in his campaign account as of Jan. 12, and reported carrying $63,621 in debt associated with loans he made to his campaigns in 2010 and 2018. Jahn, a political novice, reported $3,455 in contributions — mostly from himself and members of his family. He had $2,357 in the bank as of Jan. 12.
Pittman, the Democratic incumbent, had $241,629 in his campaign treasury in January 2021 and expanded that total to $385,515 this January after raising $408,350 in the previous year and spending $261,463. He reported donations from several Anne Arundel County businesses and Maryland unions, Annapolis lobbying firms, and multiple Democratic politicians, including former Govs. Martin J. O’Malley and Parris N. Glendening, U.S. Rep. Anthony G. Brown, Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks, former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, former Maryland Democratic Party Chair Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, former Annapolis Alderman Carl Snowden, and Baltimore County Executive John A. Olszewski Jr., whose donation came via the Baltimore County Future Slate associated with his political activities.
“Our long list of individual donors shows what this campaign is all about — aggressive, grassroots support for keeping power in the hands of the people,” Pittman said last week. He also took a dig at Haire and McMillan’s fundraising reports, arguing that Haire’s $500,000 loan is “an extraordinary acknowledgement of failure” and observing that McMillan “seems to have spent a lot of money putting up illegal signs on state roads, and replacing them after state highway crews remove them.”
Frederick County: Hough awaits Democratic showdown
Frederick is another jurisdiction where one well-funded candidate awaits the outcome of the opposing party’s primary. Only this time it’s an open seat — and the primary action is on the Democratic side.
Sen. Michael J. Hough, the Republican candidate for county executive, boasted of raising more than all three Democratic candidates combined. Hough’s haul came from 1,100 individual donations, his campaign said.
Frederick County Executive Jan H. Gardner (D), the first person to serve as county executive after the county’s transition to charter government, is term-limited. Three Democrats – current councilmembers Jessica Fitzwater and Kai Hagen, and Daryl Boffman, a former county school board member and Frederick County Public Schools official — have announced plans to run.
Hough also said his fundraising was moving at a greater pace than Gardner had raised at the same point in the 2014 election cycle; she had 211 donations and $76,301 cash on hand at this point in the election, the Hough campaign said. While Gardner was dramatically outspent in 2014 by her Republican opponent, County Commission President Blaine Young, she won the race by a comfortable 8-point margin.
Since then, the Frederick County’s voter registration figures have swung dramatically to favor Democrats. In 2014, 40% of county registered voters were Republican, compared to 35.9% Democrat. In November 2021, those figures nearly flip-flopped to 39% Democrat and 35.2% Republican. The county also has a sizeable population of unaffiliated voters.
The Hough campaign said their fundraising figures show they have momentum.
“I’m not surprised there is a lack of support for the Democratic candidates who want to turn Frederick County into Montgomery County North, with high taxes, high density housing and an unsafe and un-accountable school system,” Hough said in a campaign press release.
Even so, three of Hough’s 10 largest donations came from prominent county developers.
Other large donors included a private trash-hauling service, and Amuse-O-Matic, a Frederick-based company that sells and services juke boxes and other machines. He also brought in $4,300 from prominent Annapolis lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano and $3,100 from another top lobbyist, Gerard Evans and his firm.
The Presidential Coalition, a political fundraising entity run by David Bossie, the former deputy campaign manager for President Trump and head of the group Citizens United, transferred $3,000 to Hough.
Hough also received transfers of $1,000 each from the campaign accounts of Baltimore County Councilmember David Marks, Del. Kathy Szeliga (D-Baltimore County) and Schuh, the former Anne Arundel county executive.
Hough spent $115,180 over the past year, including $16,100 to BK strategies for a poll, more than $25,000 to Ossola Consulting and on brochures and mailings.
On the Democratic side, Boffman reported raising $40,468, mostly from small-dollar donors. The campaign received more than 200 contributions, and 15 of them were for $1,000 or more.
Boffman reported spending $15,417 on video services, mailers and campaign swag.
Fitzwater reported bringing in $107,786 and spending $40,130, retaining a cash balance of $126,428.
Fitzwater, a public school music teacher, received dozens of donations from educators, including $500 from Sean Johnson, the executive director of the Maryland State Education Association, $250 from MSEA President Cheryl Bost, and $1,500 from the MSEA Fund for Children and Public Education.
Fitzwater received four $2,500 donations from a Woodsboro-based custom home builder and his company, C.E. Rensberger and Family Builder.
She also reported receiving $1,000 each from Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott (D) and Olszewski, the Baltimore County executive.
Hagen, whose campaign is stressing a grass-roots effort and eschewing donations from developers, brought in $91,945 from more than 600 transactions, including several from supporters who set up recurring donations. He retained $133,442.67 cash on hand, edging out Fitzwater’s total.
Hagen also found support from state and local environmentalists, typically in smaller-dollar amounts. Four of Hagen’s 10 largest donors were family members.
He also received $1,000 from U.S. Rep. David J. Trone (D), who represents a portion of Frederick County, and $250 from John King for Governor. That donation was made in mid-November, around the same time that Hagen shifted his gubernatorial endorsement from Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) to King, a former U.S. Education secretary.
Frederick Alderwoman Katie Nash (D) donated more than $1,400 in several small donations to Hagen. Transit advocate Ben Ross donated $1,500.
Howard County: Rematch
The race for the top job in county government this year is a rematch between County Executive Calvin Ball (D) and the Republican incumbent he ousted four years ago, Allan Kittleman.
Ball has a bigger war chest, but that’s in part due to the fact that he had a head start — plus Kittleman is participating in the state’s new public financing system for candidates, which limits the size and scope of his contributions.
Ball has seen his cash on hand rise only slightly since a year ago. He started the fundraising period with $691,966 in the bank, raised $176,539 in the past year, and banked $695,766 on Jan. 12 after spending $172,739 in the previous year.
Ball suggested in a statement that his fundraising regimen has been curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In a year with canceled fundraisers, and where the focus wasn’t on raising campaign donations, I’m humbled to have such strong and broad support,” he said. “Once again, similar to during our historic 2018 victory, we are building an amazing grassroots campaign, and this can only be done due to our commitment to working together.”
Kittleman entered the race in the fall, after working in the Hogan administration for the three previous years. Entering into Howard County’s public financing system limited Kittleman to raising no more than $250 per individual donor, and prevents him from accepting contributions from businesses or PACs. Only money he collects from county residents in chunks of $250 or less will be matched.
Kittleman reported raising $128,680 from November until Jan. 12. He finished the reporting period with $110,338 on hand after spending $18,341.
But Kittleman said he expects a windfall of more than $380,000 from the public financing system soon, based on receiving 920 individual donations from Howard County residents. Matching funds in the county executive race are capped at $700,000.
“I am humbled and honored to have received the support of so many of my neighbors and friends,” Kittleman said. “I knew when I announced that this would be a historic grassroots campaign in Howard County, and the numbers demonstrate that.”
Montgomery County: A busy Democratic primary
In the state’s largest jurisdiction, all the action in the county executive election is in the four-way Democratic primary. But the campaign finance reports aren’t easy to interpret or compare because two of the candidates are participating in the county’s public financing program (County Executive Marc B. Elrich and Councilmember Hans Riemer), a third is a multimillionaire (David Blair), and the fourth is doing more traditional fundraising (Councilmember Tom Hucker).
By sheer numbers, Blair, a wealthy businessman making his second bid for the job, had the most cash on hand as of Jan. 12, $307,094. Spending $5.4 million from his own pocket, Blair finished just 77 votes out of the money in the 2018 Democratic primary.
Blair is hoping to bring in more money from other donors this time around, and he has succeeded to a degree, collecting $321,479 from hundreds of contributors in the past year, including at least 32 donations of $5,000 to $6,000. Blair, whose holdings include a stake in Monumental Sports and Entertainment, the owner of the Washington Wizards, Washington Capitals and Washington Mystics sports franchises, received a $5,000 donation from the group’s principal partner, Ted Leonsis, as well as $6,000 and $5,000 respectively from other partners in the sports and entertainment venture, Jean-Marie Fernandez and Raul Fernandez.
Other major donors to Blair include Bethesda real estate developer David Flanagan, former Maryland Democratic Party Chair Terry L. Lierman, Darcars, the Washington Area New Automobile Dealers Association, and Robert Trone, co-owner of the Total Wine & More liquor store chain and brother of Congressman Trone.
In addition to the contributions, Blair has seeded his campaign with $1,051,000 in loans in the past year, according to his campaign finance report. He’s paid out a whopping $836,045 in salaries. But rather than disclosing who is working for him and how much they’re being paid, Blair’s finance statement only shows multiple payments to Paychex, a payroll processing firm.
Hucker, meanwhile, reported $252,553 in his campaign account as of Jan. 12 after raising $196,328 in the previous year. Hucker, who is completing his second term on the council and also served two terms in the House of Delegates, teased a possible run for county executive last summer, but didn’t formally enter the race until December. So some of the money he raised in the past year may have been predicated on the assumption that he was running for reelection, rather than challenging Elrich.
Like the campaign finance statements of Elrich and Riemer, Hucker’s report includes multiple contributions from multiple regular Democratic donors who live inside the Capital Beltway in communities like Silver Spring and Takoma Park — the general area where the three men live.
Hucker’s report also shows several donations from labor unions, others from small and large businesses around the state, and perhaps two dozen from Annapolis lobbying firms. His biggest collection of donations — $18,000, plus $6,000 from a corporate account — came from members of the Day family, who own F.O. Day Co., an asphalt contractor in Rockville.
Hucker also reported donations of $5,000 or more from developers Barry Gudelsky and Gary Michael. Donors from the political world included Trone, Maryland House Environment and Transportation Committee Chair Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery) and former Del. Charles Barkley (D-Montgomery). Ben Ross, the transit activist, donated $1,375.
Hucker’s biggest single expense over the past year was a $22,025 payment to Victoria Research, a polling firm based in Takoma Park — which has conducted surveys for Elrich in the past.
Elrich, who used the public financing system to great effect in the 2018 election, did not raise a dime for his reelection until 2021, when he took in $102,458. His campaign reported spending $31,066 and had $71,391 in the bank as of Jan. 12. Elrich’s biggest donor was himself: He gave $3,275 to his campaign.
The Elrich campaign reported 780 qualifying donors and is anticipating a payout of $93,593 from the public financing system in a matter of days.
Riemer, who is termed out and cannot seek reelection to the council, is also expecting a windfall soon from the public financing kitty soon. He reported raising $331,159 in the past year, and said he had $310,131 on hand. That cash on hand figure includes $292,222 he has already collected via the public financing system, and he anticipates another payment of $63,672 soon.
“Hans Riemer is showing growing strength and a clear path to victory,” the councilmember’s campaign wrote in an email to supporters late last week.
Harford County: An ideological battle?
Two Republicans are vying for the right to replace County Executive Barry Glassman (R), who is termed out of office and is running for state comptroller this year.
Billy Boniface, a former top aide to Glassman, has a fundraising edge so far in his head-to-head competition with state Sen. Robert G. Cassilly.
Boniface reported $293,579 in his campaign account on Jan. 12 after raising $375,350 in the prior year. He reported spending $189,530 during that time.
Cassilly said he had $216,806 in the bank after raising $203,500 over the past year. He spent roughly $100,000 less than Boniface during that period — $85,180.
Cassilly, a hard-edged conservative, particularly during Senate debates on criminal justice matters, is seen as slightly to the right of Boniface in the primary. He reported contributions of $3,500 from attorney Stephen Peroutka, brother of the far-right former Anne Arundel County Councilmember Michael Peroutka (R); $1,000 from Del. Kevin C. Hornberger (R-Cecil), husband of Danielle Hornberger; $2,150 from former Del. Joseph Cluster (R), who represented Baltimore County but has since moved to Harford; and $125 from Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the two-time Republican gubernatorial nominee.
The Presidential Coalition, the fundraising entity associated with Bossie, contributed $2,000.
Cassilly also received several donations from Annapolis lobbyists in the past year, led by $5,400 from Bereano.
Boniface reported multiple contributions from local business concerns, including $6,000 from Thomas Kelso, Hogan’s former campaign chair and current chair of the Maryland Stadium Authority; $6,000 from M. Teresa Garland, an administrative law judge with the state; $6,000 from the Bel Air law firm of Snee, Lutche, Helmlinger & Spielberger; $5,000 from Deborah Turner, a Havre de Grace developer; $5,000 from High Ridge Properties, a real estate firm in Hunt Valley; and $5,000 from Hillel Halberstam, a solar company executive in Pikesville.
Boniface also reported $795 in donations from Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler (R) and a $200 donation from County Councilmember Patrick Vincenti.
Blane H. Miller III, who has run for office before in Harford County as a Republican, has filed to run for county executive as a Democrat but has yet to report raising or spending any money.
Elizabeth Shwe contributed to this report.
Disclosures: The David and Mikel Blair Family Foundation and The David and June Trone Family Foundation have been financial supporters of Maryland Matters. Josh Kurtz’s daughter is on Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker’s council staff.