1st Dist. Congress: Harris Gets New Air Support from Outside Groups

October 4, 2010

(By Guest Blogger Lou Peck, Contributing Editor, Congress Daily)

   A newly formed committee, with the vaguely worded name of “Concerned Taxpayers of America,” late last week reported that it is putting nearly $47,000 into TV ads opposing the re-election of Maryland 1st District Democrat Frank Kratovil.

 But, thanks to a recent Supreme Court ruling, that’s about all the information the group needs to make public. Unlike traditional candidate and political party committees, groups such as the Concerned Taxpayers of America are not currently required to disclose who their donors are or where their money is coming from.

   A spokeswoman for Republican Andy Harris – the beneficiary of the Concerned Taxpayers of America advertising — said the Harris campaign does not know where and when the anti-Kratovil ads from the Concerned Taxpayers group are scheduled to run. The group’s treasurer, a Washington-based political consultant, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
According to limited information filed with the Federal Election Commission, Concerned Taxpayers of America has spent just under $225,000 since its creation on Sept. 1.  Of that amount, $178,000 has gone to support a Republican challenger in Oregon, with the balance of the moneyallocated for ads targeted against Kratovil.

   The emergence of the Concerned Taxpayers of America effort comes barely a week after a second little known group — the Commission on Hope, Growth and Opportunity – began running its own ad designed to boost Harris. The ad shows a caricature of Kratovil in a dance-line linking arms with President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. That ad, which has aired frequently on Baltimore TV stations, charges Kratovil with doing a “song-and-dance” with regard to his votes on federal spending.

   The Commission on Hope, Growth and Opportunity faces even less in the way of disclosure requirements than the Concerned Taxpayers of America: The commission is a organized under Section 501c(4) of the U.S. tax code, and therefore does not have to report its activities to the FEC. It is therefore virtually impossible to determine how much it is raising and spending, at least until it files its annual report with the Internal Revenue Service.

   Fueling this type of “independent expenditure” advertising is a recent Supreme Court ruling, Citizens United vs. FEC , which greatly loosened the restrictions on what corporations, labor unions and interest groups can do with regard to spending money to support or oppose candidates. Many of these interests have used groups similar to those working against Kratovil to spend political money in an anonymous manner.

    According to an analysis of FEC filings just published by the Washington Post, groups outside the Democratic and Republican parties have so far spent $80 million this year – a five-fold increase from the $16 million spent by similar groups in the last mid-term election in 2006. This year, the lion’s share of that funding is being spent by conservatives  to help elect candidates such as Harris.

     Regulations governing additional disclosure of funding sources by such groups are pending before the FEC, but it remains unclear whether that agency will reach a decision in the four weeks left before this year’s election.

   On Capitol Hill, legislation designed to close some of the disclosure loopholes created by the Citizens United vs. FEC ruling has been pushed by Democratic leaders. But the bill has been opposed by Republicans, who charge the measure would go well beyond disclosure issues and put their party at a disadvantage.

     Harris “supports campaign finance reform that levels the playing field” said spokeswoman Anna Nix, while adding that Harris believes the ability of labor unions to fund campaigns would need to be restricted along with that of corporations and other groups.

    Kratovil bucked his party by opposing the so-called DISCLOSE legislation last summer, declaring: “The goal of this legislation is to provide greater transparency for corporate political spending, but in fact this legislation captures many established, reputable organizations that are funded by individual citizens, not by corporations.”

   Meanwhile, with four weeks until Election Day, both Kratovil and Harris are getting help on the airwaves from more traditional sources – the campaign arms of House Republicans and Democrats.

   The National Republican Congressional Committee this past weekend launched a TV ad criticizing Kratovil for his support of the $700 billion economic stimulus bill in early 2009. The ad is running on broadcast television in Salisbury on the lower Eastern Shore and on cable TV stations in the Baltimore area, at a cost of just over $60,000. That follows nearly $48,000 that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent last week on pro-Kratovil advertising.

    That’s on top of the barrage of ads being underwritten by the Kratovil and Harris campaigns themselves. And look for a lot more before it’s all over: Sources confirm the NRCC has reserved more than $530,000 in air time to boost Harris between now and Nov.2

1st Dist. Congress: Harris Easily Wins Primary, Setting up Rematch vs. Kratovil

September 15, 2010

(By Guest Blogger– Lou Peck, Contributing Editor, CongressDaily)

State Sen. Andy Harris Tuesday handily defeated businessman Rob Fisher in the Republican primary for Maryland’s 1st District seat in Congress, setting up a general election rematch against Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil – who two years ago defeated Harris by less than 3,000 votes out of more than 360,000 cast.

 With all but a handful of precincts reporting, Harris led Fisher by a 2-to-1 margin district-wide. In Cecil County, Harris bested Fisher by 61 percent to 39 percent.

 Fisher, an information technology consultant, poured nearly $500,000 of his own money into the primary race – enough to finance advertising on Baltimore TV stations throughout much of August.

The 1st District encompasses the entire Eastern Shore along with portions of Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties on the Western Shore.

While he appeared to have few, if any, ideological differences with the strongly conservative Harris, Fisher crafted himself as an outsider in a year of strong anti-incumbent feelings among voters – while seeking to characterize Harris, a 12-year veteran of the Maryland Legislature, as a career politician.        

For Harris, who chose to largely ignore Fisher, this year’s primary was a cakewalk compared to two years ago – when he ousted GOP Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, a party moderate who had represented the district since 1990. Gilchrest crossed party lines to endorse Kratovil prior to the 2008 election, and is widely expected to do so again this year – despite an 11th hour endorsement of Fisher in Tuesday’s GOP primary.

Kratovil, a former Queen Anne’s County state’s attorney who was unopposed for renomination Tuesday, is regarded as one of the Democrats’ most vulnerable incumbents nationwide this year. The Republican-leaning 1st District voted for the GOP presidential candidate, John McCain, over President Obama by a nearly 3-2 margin in 2008.

Harris, a physician, was widely thought to have been hurt in 2008 in the Eastern Shore section of the district by his status as a Baltimore County resident. Before announcing for a second run at the seat, he sought to remedy this by working part-time at a hospital in Salisbury on the lower Eastern Shore. He is an anesthesiologist with long-time professional ties to  the Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore. 

Since Kratovil is considered the only one of the eight Maryland House members in danger of losing aseat in Congress this fall, the Kratovil-Harris contest is expected to attract statewide attention – second only to Maryland’s other marquee rematch, between Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley and former GOP Gov. Robert Ehrlich.

As of the end of August, Kratovil had raised over $1.9 million for his re-election bid, with Harris not far behind at $1.65 million, for a total in excess of $3.5 million. With seven weeks to go until Election Day, this puts them on track to equal or exceed the total of $5 million — $3 million by Harris, $2 million by Kratovil – spent two years ago.  And those totals don’t include hundreds of thousands of dollars more for advertising expected to be spent on the race by political party committees and independent groups.

Harris, Kratovil Attract Big Donors in Run-up to Primary

September 13, 2010

(By Guest Blogger, Lou Peck– Contributing editor, CongressDaily)

Democratic incumbent Frank Kratovil and Republican Andy Harris – likely to face off this year in a rematch for Maryland’s 1st District House seat — have been attracting big-dollar donors at a steady pace in the run-up to Tuesday’s primary election, according to new reports filed through Friday with the Federal Election Commission.

Harris, who outraised Kratovil in the reporting period that covered July and much of August, pulled in another $46,300 from big-money individual donors and political action committees (PACs) in the nearly three weeks since the close of the prior reporting period on Aug. 25.

That’s somewhat more than the $38,900 that Kratovil received from PACs and big-dollar individual donors during the same three-week time slot.

The latest fundraising statistics by Harris and Kratovil are based on an examination of so-called 48-hour reports, in which candidates for Congress are required to report contributions of $1,000 or more received 48 hours prior to the primary or general election. The next full accounting of contributions to – and expenditures by – the Harris and Kratovil campaigns will not be available until the next FEC filing deadline in mid-October.

Kratovil is unopposed for renomination Tuesday, while Harris faces a primary challenge from businessman Rob Fisher. Fisher, who has pumped nearly $500,000 into a largely self-funded campaign, is seen as the underdog in the primary – notwithstanding an 11th hour endorsement Sunday from former 1st Dist. GOP Rep. Wayne Gilchrest.

Gilchrest was ousted by Harris in the 2008 primary; Gilchrest later swung his support behind Kratovil, who narrowly defeated Harris in the 2008 general election..

Although Harris has criticized Kratovil for reliance on “inside the Beltway special interests,” and Kratovil has run TV ads boasting of his record of independence from his party’s legislative agenda, both men have benefited in recent weeks from contributions made by some key inside-the-Beltway players.

Harris last week took in $9,800 – four contributions of $2,400 each – from officials of the Washington-based Carlyle Group. Under federal law, contributions from individuals are currently limited to $2,400 per election, with the primary and general considered to be separate elections.

The Carlyle Group is one of the nation’s largest and best-known private equity firms. The four Carlyle Group officials who donated to Harris – Peter Clare, Francis Finelli, Ian Fujiyama and Allan Holt – are involved with managing the firm’s holdings in the defense, aerospace and technology sectors, according to Carlyle’s Web site.

For his part, Kratovil recently attracted contributions from officials of several of the capital’s major lobbying/consulting firms. These include $1,000 each from R. Scott Pastrick, a former treasurer of the Democratic National Committee who now heads Burson Marsteller, a public relations company; Oscar Ramirez of the Podesta Group, a lobbying firm; and Anthony Harrington, an Easton resident who is chief executive officer of Stonebridge International, a consulting firm whose principals include former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Sen. Warren Rudman, R-N.H.

Kratovil also reported receiving two $5,000 contributions last Friday from the American Federation of Teachers’ PAC. That total of $10,000 represents the maximum that a PAC can donate to a member of Congress during any two-year election cycle.

In addition, Kratovil last week received a contribution of $1,500 from the Philadelphia-based Comcast Corp. PAC, bringing the total he has received from the Comcast committee to the legal maximum of $10,000. According to figures compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, Comcast has donated a total of $1.4 million to federal candidates during 2009-2010, at a time when it is lobbying hard for federal approval of its proposed acquisition of the NBC television network.

Closer to home, Kratovil received a $1,000 contribution from Glenn Weinberg, a vice president of the Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. The Cordish enterprise is currently seeking passage of a referendum on the November ballot in Anne Arundel County allowing construction of a slots parlor at the Arundel Mills shopping mall.

[UPDATE: Kratovil’s congressional press secretary, Kevin Lawlor, said Kratovil has not taken a public stance on the Comcast/NBC merger. While final approval of the deal is up to the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department, some members of Congress have chosen to comment publicly in an effort to sway regulators at those agencies.

Lawlor also said that Kratovil has not taken a position on the referendum on whether to allow a slots casino at the Arundel Mills mall. While Kratovil represents a portion of Anne Arundel County, the mall itself is just outside the 1st District. In 2008, when a statewide referendum on whether to allow casino gambling in Maryland was approved, Kratovil “basically abstained” from that debate on the grounds that it was up to state and local jurisdictions rather than federal officials to determine how best to proceed, Lawlor added.]

Meanwhile, Harris – an anesthesiologist by profession – continues to benefit significantly from out-of-state contributions from medical interests. Non-Maryland physicians donated a total of $6,400 in individual contributions to Harris in recent weeks, on top of nearly $25,000 in similar contributions that Harris received in July and August. A couple of medical PACs chipped in another $1,000 each last week.

There are a couple of well-known Maryland names on the latest filings. Chicken magnate Jim Perdue, head of the Salisbury-based Perdue Farms, gave $2,400 – the maximum an individual is allowed for the primary – to Harris.

In Kratovil’s camp is Mayo Shattuck, chief executive officer of Constellation Energy – the parent company of Baltimore Gas & Electric. Shattuck donated $1,000, while another $2,400 came from Jonathan Thayer, Constellation Energy’s chief financial officer.

1st Dist. Congress Race: Harris Outraises Kratovil, but Incumbent has More Cash

September 3, 2010

( By Guest Blogger: Lou Peck, Contributing Editor, CongressDaily)

Seeking a rematch against Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil this year, Republican state Sen. Andrew Harris outraised the incumbent during July and August – but Kratovil still has more money in his campaign treasury, according to campaign finance reports filed in advance of the Sept. 14 Maryland primary.

According to reports filed late Thursday with the Federal Election Commission, Harris raised just over $172,000 in contributions during the period from July 1 through Aug. 25, in comparison with about $134,000 for Kratovil. In addition to the contributions, Harris loaned his campaign $20,000 during the latest reporting period.

But Kratovil – who narrowly defeated Harris in the 1st District in 2008 and is considered one of the nation’s most vulnerable members of Congress in this year’s election — had almost $1.35 million in the bank as of the end of the filing period,  in contrast to about $945,000 for Harris.

Businessman Rob Fisher, who is opposing Harris in this month’s GOP primary, reported just $410 in contributions during the latest filing period. But Fisher reported spending almost $219,000 during July and August, while Harris spent $145,000 on his campaign.

Fisher is largely self-funding his campaign: He has invested $475,000 of his own money to date, including a $60,000 loan during the latest filing period. He had about $80,000 in his campaign treasury as of the Aug. 25 filing deadline.

Fisher, widely seen as an underdog in the primary race, tried to raise his visibility with an ad that ran on Baltimore TV stations throughout much of August. Harris, apparently conserving his resources for the general election, has yet to run broadcast TV advertising.

Kratovil, who is unopposed in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary, went on television this week with a widely noticed ad that downplays both his status as a Democrat and an incumbent legislator. Lettering that appears at the bottom of the screen identifies him as a “former Eastern Shore prosecutor” rather than a member of Congress. He also boasts of having voted against healthcare reform legislation that President Obama and Democratic congressional leaders regard as their signature achievement over the past two years.

Throughout the current 2009-2010 election cycle, Harris has raised a total of $1.65 million, which is approximately $250,000 less than the $1.9 million taken in by the Kratovil campaign.

In terms of outside donations, Harris reports that about 85 percent of his funds have come from individual contributors, with the balance coming from political action committees, or PACs. Kratovil, on the other hand, has raised a slight majority of his donations during this election cycle – 53 percent – from PACs and other political committees.

In a dig at Kratovil’s fundraising patterns, Harris declared in a press release: “Maryland’s First District is ready for a new Congressman, one who doesn’t receive most of his money from inside the Beltway special interests.”

But while he is drawing primarily on individual donors, Harris is relying heavily on out- of- state fundraising from one group – his fellow anesthesiologists.

Harris, a physician by profession, is an anesthesiologist associated with the Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore and in the past year has worked part-time at the hospital in Salisbury, on the Shore. He received just under $124,000 in itemized individual contributions during the latest reporting period, and at least 20 percent of this money — $24,172 – came from non-Maryland residents who are physicians, with most of the donors in that group identifying themselves as anesthesiologists.

In addition, a national committee representing anesthesiologists has begun broadcasting ads for Harris on Baltimore radio stations.

Meanwhile, several Cecil County residents contributed to Harris during July and August. E. Ralph Hostetter of North East, retired publisher of the Cecil Whig, donated $1,000; Carol Hunter, of Rising Sun, whose family owns the well known auction barn, $250; and real estate broker Patrick Ulrich of Elkton, $20 (Ulrich has donated a total of $800 to Harris in the course of the campaign).

Also, David K. Williams of Chesapeake City – who operates the Williams Family Auto Mall – donated $500, while another family member, Nancy Williams of Elkton, gave $1,000.

Kratovil received $100 from Charlestown Mayor Robert Gell, the retired president of Cecil College; $100 from Jobeth Bowers of North East, a law office employee who is currently a candidate for Cecil County’s Democratic Central Committee; and $50 from Sue Fuhrmann, an Elkton-based retiree.

One well-known Maryland name on Kratovil’s latest list of donors is Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, a wealthy Baltimore attorney,who gave $2,300.

Feds Drop Plan for Security Training Center in QA County

June 29, 2010

   The federal government has dropped its plan to build a State Department security training center on farmland in Queen Anne’s County, after intense local opposition from environmentalists and community activists. The decision was announced Monday in a letter to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-MD.

   The decision removes what could have been a potent election year issue in the 1st Congressional District, where incumbent Democrat Frank Kratovil had lobbied to get the project for his home county as an economic development boost that would have created an estimated 400 permanent jobs. But Kratovil and other elected officials, including Mikulski and the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners, backed away from the project after community opposition surfaced.

    The pullback from Queen Anne’s County could create a jobs opportunity for the Harford/Cecil County area, in conjunction with the ongoing BRAC expansion of Aberdeen Proving Ground operations.  The federal government already owns the Aberdeen facility, and the nature of the State Department security training would mesh closely with the weapons testing already conducted at Aberdeen. 

    Much of the local opposition in Queen Anne’s County centered on environmental concerns, including noise from weapons training that would impact neighboring farms in the Ruthsburg area. Southern Cecil County residents are already used to the ‘boomers’ and vibrations crossing the airwaves over the Bay from Aberdeen weapons testing.

    The State Department is seeking a location within a short driving distance of Washington, D.C. to consolidate security training for staff assigned to protect embassies and U.S. facilities around the world. Aberdeen’s location just off I-95 would fit that requirement.

    In a letter to Sen. Mikulski, the General Services Administration said that agency and the State Department would continue to seek another site for the training center. (See letter here:  http://mikulski.senate.gov/_pdfs/Press/June2010GSALetterToMikulski.pdf )

    Sen. Mikulski said she had already contacted Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to urge the State Department to consider other Maryland locations. (See Mikulski statement here: http://mikulski.senate.gov/record.cfm?id=326010

     Aberdeen Proving Ground would be an obvious choice.

ANALYSIS: PA House Race Signals Path for Kratovil

May 19, 2010

   The victory of Democrat Mark Critz in a special Congressional election in southwestern Pennsylvania’s 12th District may signal some trends that bode well for Maryland’s Rep. Frank Kratovil, D-1st, in the November general election, but only if the vulnerable Eastern Shore incumbent takes a few pages from Critz’ playbook.

   The key lesson? Run your own race based on your district’s needs and resist the temptation, or the pressure from your party and donors, to nationalize what is essentially a local contest based on local issues. And say the word “jobs” in every speech and plaster the word, and the issue, on your website and campaign flyers.

  Critz defeated Republican Tim Burns by a comfortable 53-44 margin, with a Libertarian candidate taking 2 percent of the vote in the special election to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Rep. John (Jack) Murtha, D, who held the seat for nearly 36 years with a steely mix of conservative and populist positions on issues. The district includes Johnstown and spreads west to the outskirts of Pittsburgh in a region that has faced chronic economic problems. (Read the local report on the outcome of Tuesday’s special election here: http://www.ourtownonline.biz/articles/2010/05/18/somerset_news/news/local/news097.txt

  In our previous life, we traveled the Murtha district in presidential political campaigns in the past, meeting with a coffee klatch of retirees at a local fast food restaurant, veterans at the VFW hall and working moms at the grocery store. It is a district that in many ways is similar to the Eastern Shore of Maryland (minus the Bay and crabs) with many small towns, rural areas and a feeling of being forgotten and/or betrayed by the economy and the promises of government.  A Volkswagen assembly plant that provided good manufacturing jobs fled to Mexico, small businesses closed down and were replaced by rows of fast food restaurants.

   Murtha dominated the district for years, although he had a close call in his last contest, with a mix of hawkish views on defense and attention to bringing home the bacon, as in jobs, to the economically depressed district. Even a small ball bearings plant had a military contract to keep the machines and employees working. Critz, the winner of Tuesday’s special election, worked for Murtha for many years as  district director and director of economic development.

   The district, while nominally Democratic in registration, voted for Republican John McCain in the last presidential election, as did Maryland’s 1st District. But the PA district narrowly supported Democrat John Kerry over Republican George W. Bush in 2004, while Maryland’s 1st overwhelmingly supported Bush.

   The national Democratic and Republican parties invested heavily in the special election, with each side sending in heavy hitters to campaign in the district and pouring money into TV ads. Republicans tried to make it a referendum on Washington and voter anger while Critz and the Democrats played it more locally: “It’s about jobs, it’s about the economy,” he said in his victory speech. Jobs and the economy dominated his campaign and website.

   His Republican opponent, a wealthy businessman, promoted a platform that sounded like the national GOP playbook with some cribbing from the Tea Party folks, pledging to “take back the country” and “reduce government spending,” balance the federal budget and end “corruption in Congress.”

   In the Maryland 1st, Andy Harris, the expected Republican nominee, is so far running a more balanced campaign than his failed run against Kratovil two years ago. Most of that campaign focused on attack ads dubbing Kratovil a ‘liberal’ while this time Harris is talking about tax cuts, repealing the new federal healthcare law, cutting government spending and mandatory term limits for members of Congress.

  But Kratovil, at least on his website, seems to be running a national rather than local campaign– with the exception of Chesapeake Bay issues. On his list of issues, his priorities are “balancing the budget,” touting his opposition to the Obama healthcare bill, a get-tough on immigration stand, support of gun rights and, in last place, protecting the Bay. Jobs didn’t make the cut!

[UPDATE: Kratovil recently updated his campaign website to put “jobs and the economy” at the top of his issues list. Guess he reads The Cecil Times? Here is the link: http://kratovil.com/p/wfc/web/candidate/issue/public/ ]

   In appearances around the district and press releases, Kratovil has indeed highlighted steps he has taken to bring jobs to the district and help small business, including his sponsorship of a bill to protect local car dealerships from being forced out of business by financially strapped manufacturers. But for the most part, Kratovil– a prime target of the Tea Party people– has been playing defense and playing it on the Republican end of the field.

   The PA special election indicates that voters with a similar profile to the MD 1st can be won with a laser-like focus on jobs and the economy and other local bread and butter issues.

  Kratovil had an early fundraising lead and is expected to continue to receive campaign assistance from the national Democratic party. However, Harris has made inroads in fundraising in recent months and is pulling closer to Kratovil’s warchest. But so far the deep pockets of the conservative Club for Growth that fueled Harris’ last race have not materialized. Indeed, the Club’s PAC has not even endorsed Harris yet and the group is expected to be devoting much of its resources to the Pennsylvania Senate race, in which Pat Toomey, the former president of the Club, is the Republican nominee.

   As the Maryland campaign cranks up in the next few months, the candidates would be smart to take a look at the PA special election and some lessons learned.

Del. Richard Sossi: Fundraising Success–But For Which Seat?

January 22, 2010

     Del. Richard Sossi (R-36-Queen Anne’s County) has indeed been “fundraising like mad,” as the Cecil Times reported on Twitter recently, and new campaign finance reports show that this early in Campaign 2010, Sossi has raised as much as he reported in his 2006 pre-general election campaign for Delegate. But this time, the unanswered question is whether his fundraising hard work will be used in a re-election campaign for Delegate or a run for the State Senate.

    The latest report for his campaign committee, “Citizens to Elect Richard Sossi,” filed right on time this week, shows that in 2009, he raised a total of $28,845. Less expenses of fundraisers, printing, etc., plus a carryover bank balance from 2008 of $8,380, Del. Sossi had a net cash-on-hand balance of $33,724.

    That compares favorably with his pre-general election finance report from the 2006 election, when he reported raising $29,973.

   The early-and-often fundraising indicates that Del. Sossi is getting prepared for the possibility that our resident political Sphinx, State Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36), will come down from the mountain and tell us mere mortal voters whether he is giving up his Senate seat to challenge Andy Harris in the Republican primary for the 1st District Congress seat now held by Democrat Frank Kratovil.  In the event that Pipkin does decide to challenge Harris– which many Washington political handicappers think he will– Sossi would be well-positioned to mount a strong race for the vacated Senate seat.

    “It’s like chicken soup: it can’t hurt, ” Sossi said of his early fundraising during an interview with The Cecil Times Friday. Regardless of Pipkin’s decision, “either way, I’d be in better shape” with early fundraising, Sossi said. And having a healthy campaign fund will likely deter a serious primary challenger.

  Sossi’s fundraising report is the stuff of dreams for many candidates: lots of small donations, a sprinkling of modest Political Action Committee contributions, and loyal repeat donors. But there are a few small donations from interesting sources: $250 from Andy Harris’ state campaign committee and a token donation from the campaign committee of Donald Alcorn, an unsuccessful past Republican candidate for Queen Anne’s County Commissioner who has already filed for Pipkin’s Senate seat. Alcorn has done no fundraising and his campaign report consists of loans to himself.  So Sossi’s potential Senate primary opponent thought so highly of  Sossi that he donated to his campaign?  That’s every candidate’s dream campaign flyer.

    On the PAC front, Sossi raised $3,825 in 2009. PAC donors included Maryland New Car and Truck Dealers PAC ($500); the Restaurant Association of Maryland ($350); Emergency Medicine PAC ($250); and Constellation Energy PAC ($250.)

   Some of Sossi’s largest combined donations came from a consulting firm run by former House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell, Jr., the conservative Democrat  icon of Kent County politics who still keeps a hand in General Assembly issues as one of  nine currently registered lobbyists for Constellation Energy, according to State Ethics board reports. Mitchell’s Ryandy Chesapeake Bay Consulting, LLC donated a total of $1,250 to Sossi in 2009, plus a personal donation of $250 is listed to “Clayton Mitchell.”

   When the Kent County Commissioners re-named the county office building in Mitchell’s honor in 2008, minutes of the commissioners meeting report that only Sossi and Del. Mary Roe Walkup (R-36) from the state delegation showed up to honor him.  That may be part of Sossi’s appeal across the political lines to a Democrat like Mitchell: Sossi works the district and shows up anywhere and everywhere if there is a hand to be shaken.

    “Mr. Mitchell and I have met for coffee in Annapolis and I value his opinions as a conservative Democrat,” Sossi said, adding that “There aren’t too many of them left.”

 As far as fellow elected Republicans, Sossi’s latest report shows donati0ns totaling $125 from Cecil County Commissioner Robert Hodge (R) and $35 from Commissioner Jim Mullin (R). Absent from the list were Pipkin and fellow 36th District Republican Del. Michael Smigiel.

 Smigiel was maneuvering to run for the Senate seat if Pipkin should give it up but we are hearing that he is now telling Republicans that he plans to run again for Delegate. Sossi’s strong popularity in the District would have made for a bruising, uphill primary fight for Smigiel. And Smigiel is hoping to move up a notch in the House GOP leadership with the decision by the Minority Whip, Del. Christopher Shank, to seek a Western Maryland State Senate seat.

  Del. Sossi plans to keep up his fundraising so that “I’m ready to go, either way,” for Delegate or state senate. He added that he hopes to raise up to $50,000 for whichever campaign he wages this year. He’s more than halfway there already.

Food Aid Rising in Cecil County: 11% Get Help

January 3, 2010

  Federal food stamps are now used by about 11 percent of  Cecil County residents, up from about 10 percent of county residents just a few months ago, according to state data. The indicators show the impact of the recession is still growing in Cecil County, even as some economic forecasters project that the economy is improving.

    Detailed statistical reports by the Maryland Department of Human Resources, which oversees various welfare programs including food stamps, show a sharp increase in food stamp aid in Cecil County within the past year. There were 11,059 participants in the program in November, 2009, up from 8,241 participants in November, 2008.  And just since this summer, participation in the food aid program has jumped by nearly 1,000 people in the county.

   The food stamps program has long been viewed by many economic analysts as a leading indicator of financial hard times, since the federally-funded program has less restrictive rules for participation than cash welfare programs and many newly poor-but-proud families who shun traditional welfare will accept food stamps to feed their children. The program, formally renamed “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program” or SNAP in 2008, provides debit cards that can be used to buy groceries, with the amount of aid dependent upon family size and income.

   Statewide, food stamp participants numbered 527,011 in November, up from 491,262  just a few months ago, in July, 2009.

    Although the numbers show rising numbers of Maryland families are getting food aid, a Baltimore court ruled several weeks ago that state social services agencies are not moving fast enough to meet the demand. The judge ordered the state to come up with an action plan to make sure that all applicants for food stamps receive a decision within 30 days, as required by federal regulations.  (Read about the court decision here:)http://www.acy.org/articlenav.php?id=592

    During the court case, advocates for the poor calculated that just 59 percent of eligible families in the state were actually receiving benefits in 2007. The state argued that it had made efforts to improve its outreach to eligible families and speed up processing of claims. But the court found otherwise and directed the state to comply with the 30-day processing rule by the end of this year.

    Anecdotally, local Cecil County food pantries and churches have reported increased calls for assistance in these tough economic times. On the Upper Shore, other counties are also hard hit. As of June, 2009, food stamp participation amounted to 13 percent of the population in Caroline County; 10 percent in Kent County; 7 percent in Talbot County; and 5 percent in Queen Anne’s County.

     Statewide, Cecil County’s food stamp rate tied for eighth highest, along with Kent County, Washington County and Worchester County. The highest food stamp rates, as of June, 2009, were Baltimore City (24 percent of the population); Dorchester County (20 percent); Somerset County (16 percent); Allegany County(15 percent); Wicomico County (14 percent); Caroline County (13 percent); and Garrett County (12 percent).

    Seven of the counties on that list are in the First Congressional District. That means that incumbent Rep. Frank Kratovil, a Democrat, and whichever Republican ends up running against him in this year’s November election, would be well advised to pay attention to what the food stamp numbers mean in political terms. People in the First District are hurting, and when they are hurting, they are usually angry. And an angry electorate is unpredictable.

REP. KRATOVIL: Your 24-cents worth– an Incumbent’s advantage

December 14, 2009

   Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-1st) has spent nearly $83,000 in taxpayer money to send out newsletter mailings to constituents this year, at  per household costs of 24-cents, according to a Cecil Times search of voluminous Clerk of the House documents.  It is a perfectly legal, and even routine, expenditure by sitting House members but it is one of the ‘perks’ of office that political challengers to incumbents do not have.

    Federal documents show that Kratovil distributed 208,322 mailers in the third quarter of the year, for a total cost of $31,256 or 9-cents per household. For the first quarter of the year, he sent out 116,151 mailers, at a total cost of $51,666, or about 15-cents per household. Final figures for the year won’t be available until early 2010. (These figures do not include the value of franked mail, which is accounted for separately in House records. The franking privilege allows members of Congress to send postage-free letters to constituents.)

   Kratovil’s mailings let him get his name before individual constituents (otherwise known as voters) to advise them of what he is doing in Washington, address issues of concern to his district, etc.  The content of such mailings is strictly limited under House rules, which prohibit blatant electioneering in such taxpayer-supported mailings.

    In the grand scheme of federal campaign finance, a quarter is less than peanuts. But such taxpayer-paid mailings do give an incumbent an edge over challengers to keep his or her name before the voters. Unfortunately, many citizens are clueless about who represents them in Congress and do not follow the news in newspapers, online or on TV newscasts. But they do at least glance at their mail and might just register on the Congressman’s name before tossing a flyer in the trash.

   Especially for a vulnerable freshman like Kratovil, that nearly $83,000 in public-financed mailings gives him a chance to remind voters he is on the job without having to dip into campaign funds to get out that message.

   State Sen. Andy Harris (R-Baltimore County), who very narrowly lost to Kratovil in the 2008 general election, has announced he plans to challenge Kratovil again in 2010.  So far, Kratovil has outpaced Harris in fundraising for the next contest by about a 2-1 margin, according to federal campaign finance reports.

  Many long-term incumbents do not bother to send out such mailings in non-election years. But for newcomers such mailings are important. Kratovil is not alone among the newest members of the Maryland Congressional delegation in taking advantage of the taxpayer-funded mailings.

   Rep. John Sarbanes (D-3rd) sent out a one-time mailing of 468,363 pieces, at a total costs of $55,734, or an average per household costs of 18-cents, according to federal records. But that was still quite a bit less than Kratovil’s spending. Sarbanes doesn’t have a big name recognition problem, since he is the son of the long-term U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes. Sarbanes retired from his seat, which was won in the 2006 election by Ben Cardin. Cardin’s House seat was won by the younger Sarbanes.

   Mailing privileges are not the only taxpayer-provided perk that can help incumbents. So if Rep. Kratovil drives over to Ocean City to inspect storm damage to the beaches, the mileage is reimbursed as a legitimate expense of constituent service. If  Harris does the same, the cost is on his dime, or that of his campaign committee.

    But Harris has a few perks of his own. If  that storm also damaged areas in the portion of his state Senate District that coincides with the 1st Congressional district, that inspection trip would be a legitimate  cost of his state representational duties.

     Of course, if that pesky storm hit Kent County, too, Republican State Sen. E.J. Pipkin could have a similar advantage. There has been considerable buzz in Washington about the rising prospects of Pipkin entering the GOP primary in 2010 for a re-match of the Republican primary he lost to Harris in 2008. However, on the home-front Campaign Pipkin has been mum on his intentions, even as he appears around Cecil County waving vague campaign signs. (See article below on this blog)

     The key question on the Republican side is whether the deep-pocketed Club for Growth will bankroll Harris again as it did in the last election as part of the conservative group’s agenda to knock off moderate Republicans, like Wayne Gilchrest, who lost the GOP primary to Harris.  The Club did contribute to Harris’ general election campaign, but the group generally prefers to play an active role in primaries.

    That said, the entry of the somewhat more moderate Pipkin into the Republican primary against Harris might be the best way to assure that the Club for Growth would pull out the checkbook again for Harris in 2010.