Josh Kurtz: Anthony Brown and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad FEC Report

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By Josh Kurtz

First, let’s stipulate that the candidates who have officially gotten into the race to replace Rep. Donna Edwards (D) as she runs for Senate had only three weeks to raise money before the release of the latest campaign finance disclosures.

Let us also stipulate that none of the candidates had a particularly impressive Federal Election Commission report, though Glenn Ivey’s – he raised $117,000 and had $120,000 on hand – is at least in the realm of respectable.

But former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown’s (D) showing is astoundingly meager. This, after all, was the guy who raised an eye-popping $18 million for his gubernatorial campaign and affiliated party committee spending in the 2014 election cycle, collected from hundreds if not thousands of donors, according to a Baltimore Sun analysis.

Raising money was the one thing Brown showed a talent for in that disastrous campaign. He had a robust fundraising list he could work from as he launched his congressional bid. Yet it didn’t yield very much.

The media accounts have correctly pointed out that Brown raised $51,860 over the three weeks, and that he had $51,619 in his campaign coffers as of March 31. But those numbers don’t tell the full story. Due to federal campaign contribution limits, more than $5,000 of that money can’t be used for the Democratic primary. And $15,900 of it came from Brown’s wife and mother and Brown himself.

Aside from the money raised from the Browns and $5,000 from a political action committee that supports military veterans, and cash that was bundled through a liberal organization for small donors, Act Blue, Brown had 28 donors. Twenty-one of those had given money to Brown previously, according to the database maintained by the Maryland State Board of Elections. Of those who hadn’t, six had given to Martin O’Malley’s gubernatorial campaign – which means Brown, as O’Malley’s running mate, was the beneficiary.

So of all of Brown's hundreds of prior donors, only 21 could be persuaded to support his congressional campaign? Presumably the candidate called a lot more people than that.

But maybe he didn’t.

“I haven’t spoken to him about his congressional race – but I wish him well,” said businessman Martin Knott, who was the finance chairman for Brown’s gubernatorial campaign.

That’s a surprising statement, to say the least. But Knott is close to O’Malley, and many O’Malley loyalists believe Brown blew his big opportunity, in part by not listening to them and not taking advantage of the infrastructure that O’Malley’s team provided him. So there’s an inevitable estrangement there. 

Brown was a prodigious fundraiser when he was governor-in-waiting, propped up by the entire state Democratic establishment. But now that he’s the guy who blew the 2014 election, how many donors are going to race to his side?

Brown’s 2014 campaign was marked by the candidate’s sense of entitlement. Does he become more appealing now that he’s launched his Redemption Tour? 

One former donor who Brown contacted about the congressional race told the candidate that there would be no contribution for the foreseeable future – at least until the field had settled. “We have lots of friends in this race,” this donor explained.

Many of Brown’s prior contributors had business before the state, but have considerably less interest in federal affairs, at least as far as their own bottom lines are concerned. “These congressional races are frankly kind of a nuisance,” said one former Brown donor who fits into that category.

And what of the $500,000 in personal debt Brown was carrying in his gubernatorial campaign when he filed his last state campaign finance report in mid-January? Thanks to the state’s lax campaign finance reporting schedule, we won’t know whether Brown has persuaded donors to help him close that gap until next January.

But here’s one clue about how Brown’s state committee may be making a little side change: His congressional committee just reported spending $2,850 to rent a fundraising list from the state campaign.

Whatever Brown’s financial woes, the likely entry of Del. Dereck Davis (D), the chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee in Annapolis, into the congressional race means that some serious money is about to come into play.

Davis is in the enviable position of presiding over a committee that oversees the banking, insurance, energy, alcohol, real estate, utility and technology industries, and they will all no doubt want to show the chairman some love for his congressional bid. After all, he’ll still hold the gavel through 2016 – and beyond, if he loses the Democratic primary.

Davis’ presence in the race ups the ante for Brown, Ivey, Dels. Joseline Pena-Melnyk and Jay Walker, former Prince George’s County Councilwoman Ingrid Turner, and all the other potential contenders eyeing the race for Edwards’ seat.

Just how formidable a candidate Davis will be remains to be seen. He’s a power in Annapolis, and has many ties to important constituencies through his work as deputy director in Prince George’s County’s Office of Community Relations. But he’s not as well known in the congressional district as he probably thinks he is – certainly not as well known as Brown, with his eight years as lieutenant governor, and Ivey, with his eight years as Prince George’s states attorney. That’s where Davis’ ability to raise campaign cash from the industries he oversees will be a tremendous, if unsavory, asset.

Meanwhile, Davis’ entry into the race may present an uncomfortable situation for County Executive Rushern Baker (D). Davis is on Baker’s payroll, and he has become Baker’s most powerful and reliable ally in the State House. But Ivey and Baker are old family friends.

Does Baker choose sides in the race or remain on the sidelines? Some wags may suggest that Baker is waiting for a white guy from Anne Arundel County to enter the race before endorsing. More likely, he sides with Ivey but says nice things about some of the other candidates.

At the same time, the dynamic between Brown and Davis will also be fascinating to watch. The two were uneasy allies when they represented the same legislative district for eight years – Brown the showhorse, Davis the workhorse. And Davis did some heavy lifting for Brown during the gubernatorial campaign, accusing Republican nominee Larry Hogan of profiting from his political group, Change Maryland. But now they both have their eyes on the same prize.

It is an impressive field overall. Davis is a skillful lawmaker with a good-natured boy-next-door personality. Brown, for all his flaws, certainly has the smarts and qualifications to be an upstanding member of Congress. Walker is a solid chairman of the Prince George’s legislative delegation in Annapolis and is popular with his colleagues and constituents. And Ivey is an appealing guy with the widest breadth of experience – not to mention years of service as a Capitol Hill staffer and a wife with a power base and following of her own.

But the darkhorse candidate in this race may be Joseline Pena-Melnyk. She may live just outside the district boundaries. She does not have the fundraising chops her opponents do. Yet she may be the best equipped to stitch together the winning coalition that Donna Edwards had when she ousted Albert Wynn in 2008. And none of the alpha males she’s running against is going to outwork her.

So here we are, at the starting gate. Once again, Prince George’s County proves that it’s more interesting than just about anyplace else.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at . Follow him on Twitter -- @joshkurtznews

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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.