Josh Kurtz: Holiday Green and Anthony Brown

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Ah, the holidays.

You like to spend your hard-earned money on special gifts for the family, or maybe a nice vacation. And if there’s anything extra, you hope to send a little to the local food pantry, or maybe a charity that helps children living in poverty.

But in Maryland’s political system, if you want to be a player, you’ve got to set some money aside this time of year for the elected officials.

That’s because with the annual ban on fundraising for state officials during the three-month General Assembly session about to kick in, lawmakers from one corner of the state to the other have their hands out. They’ve got a month of money grubbing left until the spigot shuts off.

Sorry, Capital Area Foodbank. State Sen. Joanne Benson needs a hundred bucks or more for her “Night of Elegance” at the dreadful (and dreadfully managed, if a recent Washington Post report is to be believed) Showplace Arena in Upper Marlboro this Thursday. Oxfam will have to wait – conservative Del. Pat McDonough (R) wants you to cough up $200 Saturday to join him at the Pikesville Hilton. If you’re not too hung over after all the New Year’s revelry, you can join Del. Steve DeBoy (D) for a $50-a-plate breakfast on Jan. 2 – a federal holiday – at Ships Café and Sports Pub in Catonsville.

With caps on what an individual can give to candidates over the course of a four-year election cycle, the competition for contributions has intensified, especially with an open gubernatorial election in 2014 and the prospect of open seat races for attorney general and comptroller as well. In short, there’s a limited universe for campaign contributions out there (unless you’re Doug Gansler), so everyone is scrambling to lock down financial commitments now – even if Election Day is 35 months away. Meanwhile, with the economy still staggering, Our Daily Bread is left with the crumbs.

Forget Christmas. The date Maryland political junkies should have circled on their calendar is Dec. 14. That’s when two of the leading potential candidates for governor, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) and state Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) will be holding competing fundraisers just 2.1 miles apart from each other in Baltimore (Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker also has a reception that evening).

Franchot will be at Sabatino’s in Little Italy. Brown will be holding court at the Museum of Industry, where regular tickets run $250 but the VIP package costs $4,000.

On the fundraising front, both Brown and Franchot – and another possible Democratic candidate for governor, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, who seems to hold a fundraiser a week – are playing catch-up to Gansler, the attorney general with a lot of wealthy friends. Gansler is expected to hit about $4 million in cash on hand by year’s end, and no one else will come close. Money isn’t everything when it comes to waging a campaign for governor, but it sure helps.

For Brown, next week’s event is sort of an extension of a fundraiser he had in Upper Marlboro just before Thanksgiving, a 50th birthday celebration designed to show the breadth of his political support.

At the earlier event, he united the disparate factions of Prince George’s County politics – with U.S. Reps. Steny Hoyer and Donna Edwards listed on the invitation as special guests, and state Senate President Mike Miller, Baker, former County Executive Wayne Curry, County Council Chairman Ingrid Turner, and Maryland Secretary of State John McDonough listed as special hosts. Just about all showed up to pay their respects.

The host committee also included many of the power players you’d hope to have in your corner if you were a serious candidate for statewide office from Prince George’s: moguls like Cathy Hughes and Timothy Adams and Warren Thompson, labor leaders like Jos Williams and Chuck Graham and Thomas McNutt, and civic leaders like Charlene Dukes and Philip Down.

Brown also has an A list of business, civic and political leaders listed on the invitation for his fundraiser in Baltimore next week, headlined by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) (disclosure: businessman Martin Knott, a founder of this website, is one of the organizers of the event).

Consenting to have your name on a list does not necessarily constitute an endorsement for 2014. But this impressive array of supporters should put to rest any talk – mostly generated from the camps of Brown’s rivals – that the lieutenant governor doesn’t plan to seek the big prize.

According to several sources, Brown during the recent congressional redistricting process was asked whether he’d like to have a House district drawn specially for him, but turned the suggestion down. Anyone who knows Brown knows he has a high opinion of himself and isn’t likely to back down easily to men whom he holds at varying levels of regard. And should he run and win, Brown will make history, becoming the state’s first African-American governor. That’s a powerful motivation for Brown – and his potential supporters.

But it is also true that in what seems like an accelerated contest, where the early jockeying is well under way, Brown until now has been quieter than other potential candidates. Some of that is institutional – it’s tough when you’re lieutenant governor to escape the governor’s shadow and start mobilizing for the next campaign when the last one just ended a year ago.

For Brown, it’s even tougher than it was for the last two lieutenant governors who sought a promotion to Government House. Mickey Steinberg was ostracized by William Donald Schaefer early in the second term, so it didn’t especially matter whether or not he stayed on the reservation. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend had the national Kennedy network operating on her behalf, so it was understood that even if she stayed fairly quiet and loyal to Parris Glendening during the first half of their second term, a campaign apparatus of some sort – an ineffective one, as it turned out – was being put in place.

What’s more, Steinberg’s and Townsend’s principals weren’t going anywhere when their terms ended. Schaefer was headed for an unhappy retirement. Glendening had some notion that he might end up in Al Gore’s cabinet or as chancellor of the University of Maryland System. Neither outgoing governor was planning a full-bore political campaign.

Yet to the lieutenant governor’s benefit, it's becoming more and more apparent that many of O'Malley's core supporters are now casting their lot with Brown. That's not insignificant: If O'Malley is serious about running for president in 2016, he will want his No. 2 to do well, as 2014 will in some respects be a referendum on him.

As for O'Malley's business supporters who are getting behind Brown -- they may fantasize about spending a night in the Lincoln Bedroom, and they'll do all they can to help elect O'Malley president. But their business interests remain here in Maryland, and by siding with Brown they are making a statement of their own.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at .

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

All I Want for Christmas Is Bob Ehrlich’s Book (Plus: A Meditation on Tom Perez)

Road to Nowhere

Hoyer on Currie: ‘The system works’

Why Glenn Ivey Will Win — And Why He Won’t

Around the Horn: Maryland Register, IRV, Uly Currie

Oh Donna (and Valerie)

Bartlett Pared

Van Hollen’s Lament

P.G. Law
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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.

But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.

The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.

In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.

Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.