By DANIEL LEADERMAN
ANNAPOLIS (March 13, 2010) - Catering. Consultants. Clowns. Even in years without elections, Maryland political campaigns keep the cash flowing, spending money on fundraisers, advertising, food and even the occasional balloon artist.
Expenditure reports for 2009, made by the campaigns to the State Board of Elections, detail just about everything, from credit card surcharges to catering.
And while many of the expenses are unremarkable, like the $90 per month Attorney General Douglas Gansler's campaign spent on wireless phone service, and some a little odd, like the clown, which was part of a family-oriented event sponsored by Comptroller Peter Franchot, last year's expenses set the stage for what could be a heavyweight gubernatorial rematch this fall.
Republican Robert Ehrlich is expected to announce his candidacy against incumbent Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley later this month, and substantial differences in spending, as well as the cash each candidate has on hand, suggest Ehrlich would be starting off at a disadvantage.
O'Malley not only outspent Ehrlich tenfold last year, but the incumbent governor's campaign reported having more than $5.7 million in its war chest in January, while Ehrlich reported just under $142,000.
But fundraising isn't likely to be a serious obstacle for Ehrlich, who served as governor from 2002-2006 and won't have to waste time introducing himself to voters.
"Ehrlich is the only game in town when it comes to Republican statewide name recognition and respect," said Todd Eberly, who teaches political science at St. Mary's College.
"I have no doubt that he will raise money," Eberly said. "The largest impediment that Ehrlich faces is that it's a down economy."
In total, O'Malley's campaign spent more than $980,000 in 2009. Ehrlich spent just under $88,000, according to campaign finance reports.
And if the figures from last time are any indicator, this election could get expensive.
In 2005, the year before the last time Ehrlich and O'Malley faced off, each one spent more than $1 million. Overall, Ehrlich spent more than $18 million during the 2006 election cycle, while O'Malley spent more than $15 million.
Among the biggest expenses in 2009 were research and public opinion polls, according to an analysis by Capital News Service.
The O'Malley campaign spent nearly $125,000 on fundraising consulting from the Baltimore-based Martin-Lauer Associates, which has worked with the governor on previous campaigns.
The Bob Ehrlich for Maryland Committee paid $21,500 to the Virginia-based Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican polling firm.
"Public opinion polls are essential to a candidate," said Eberly. "You're going to spend a lot of money as you try to finalize a message ... (and) figure out what the public wants to hear."
The Republican message may be particularly persuasive this year as voters continue to face a troubled economy and high unemployment nationwide.
"It's not shaping up to be a good year for Democrats," Eberly said. "They had two very good years in 2006 and 2008 ... if voters are displeased they're going to voice that displeasure at the party (in power)."
Salaries for campaign staff were the largest type of expense for both O'Malley and Franchot. The governor's campaign spent more than $170,000 on the salaries of its campaign manager and financial team.
Franchot's campaign spent about $115,000 on salaries. The campaign had three full-time staffers for a period in 2009, a number that has now dropped to two, according to the campaign manager, Andrew Friedson. Overall, the Franchot campaign spent about $253,000 last year.
Ehrlich's campaign spent just $2,285 on compensation. Henry Fawell, a spokesman for the former governor said Ehrlich relies on "very enthusiastic and loyal volunteers."
Franchot is currently the only contender in the comptroller's race. Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith considered a run for comptroller but opted out in July.
Franchot spent $42,500 on media expenses such as internet campaign consulting and graphic design.
"The comptroller feels very strongly about his outreach," said Friedson. "We have a website. We're very active on Facebook and Twitter."
The campaign also sends out weekly emails on what the comptroller is doing and what's happening around the state.
As for the clown, it was part of an event that also included a moon bounce and barbecue. The object of the event was not so much fundraising as people-raising, said Friedson.
"It's just a way for the comptroller to meet with some of his supporters," Friedson said.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.