Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Cha-Ching!

Money, lots of it, is flowing into the campaign accounts of our party-affiliated, non-single-issue candidates for county executive.

Democrat Ken Ulman raised nearly double the campaign cash collected by Republican Christopher J. Merdon this year, as both battle to become Howard County's next executive.

In campaign finance reports prepared for filing yesterday, both County Council members reported totals that far exceeded what was raised by outgoing County Executive James N. Robey in his last two campaigns. Ulman already has accumulated more money than Robey spent in both of those efforts combined.

Ulman reported raising $364,427 to Merdon's $186,181 from Jan. 13 through Aug. 8. That gives Ulman a total of $575,000 raised so far, compared with Merdon's $449,445. Ulman also had $413,495 in cash on hand, compared with Merdon's $304,402 - a 25 percent advantage.

So, already over one-meeellion dollars has been raised for this race, and we've still got a few months to go. Of course, the next logical question after "How Much?" is "From Whom?".

Most of the money came to both candidates from big contributors, including developers, lawyers and business owners, the reports show, with 96 contributions of $1,000 or more for Merdon, and 143 in that category for Ulman. Ulman also raised significant amounts from people outside Howard County, including $500 from singer Sheryl Crow, who knows Doug Ulman, the candidate's brother, through his work with the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

I'm sure someone's going to pour over the donor lists and tell us in whose pockets our candidates reside, but I don't think we'll learn anything of value from that exercise. The fact is both candidates have a ton of money that came from all sorts of places, many of which are related to development in this county. Trying to keep score on this is like trying to count fleas on a dog.

The bigger issue, I think, is how much money will actually affect the election. Here's what the paid commentariat has to say:

Although Howard is a small county in which candidates typically spend money mainly on mailings and signs, University of Maryland, Baltimore County political science professor Donald F. Norris said money can make a difference in a tight race.

"I would imagine that if you ask the average Howard resident to name the five County Councilmen, they couldn't do it," he said, something money can help remedy.

Herbert S. Smith, a political science professor at McDaniel College, said money spent for offices and staff pay doesn't help as much as direct advertising.

"There are three important things - voter contact, voter contact and voter contact," Smith said.

Money can also mean support, said Matthew Crenson, a political science professor at the Johns Hopkins University.

"Most people who contribute to campaigns are investors. ... Investors choose [candidates] not just because they like them, but because they think they're going to win," he said.
So, some, not much, or a proxy for the outcome. Take your pick.

Although I try, I can't seem to work myself up too much about money in elections. Maybe I'm too jaded, but it seems that all the money in the world won't turn a bad candidate into a winner. Sure, some people are going to vote based on who looked best on TV, but on the whole I think most voters are smart enough to find some other reason to justify their vote than snazzy commercials (and for some, the amount of money raised by certain candidates is a reason to vote against them). Also, with both candidates raising and spending roughly the same amount of cash, the net result is probably a wash.

2 comments:

mary smith said...

The only question raised in the above was how campaign money affects voters. There is another question, at least of equal importance: How does the money affect candidates after they take office?

Money is incredibly important, unfortunately. Would you also say that the oil industry coincidentally/accidentally/by happenstance did well during Bush's tenure?

How, in the same text, can it be claimed that campaign money comes from all over, and primarily from land developers? !@#$%^&*

The money is not coming from…well, I’d like to say Mother Theresa, or Ghandi, but they’re obviously not able. (Do we have any passive heroes remaining? )

These two incumbent candidates are very good at what they do:

1. Obtain campaign money
2. Run for re-election
3. Reward campaign money sources after taking office
4. Obtain campaign money

Hayduke said...

Mary: I consciously choose not to ask nor to give my thoughts on money in politics in general (the after the elections question) because I really don't know what to say that hasn't been said. Yes, it's unseemly and provides fodder for the backroom-deals accusers, but it's present at every level of government. Are publicly financed elections the answer? Greater limits on contributions? I don't know.