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Election 2022 Government & Politics

Fundraising in the Comptroller Race: Shock and Awe

Bowie Mayor Timothy J. Adams and Del. Brooke E. Lierman (D-Baltimore City) are running for Maryland comptroller. Candidate photos.

Fundraising over the past year in the Democratic primary for state comptroller can be summed up in three words: shock and awe.

The two contenders, state Del. Brooke E. Lierman of Baltimore City and Bowie Mayor Timothy J. Adams, brought in record amounts of money for this down-ballot statewide race. She raised $1,736,469 and he collected $2,142,040, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Maryland State Board of Elections this week.

Both spent about the same: He laid out $540,621 and she spent $552,764. And as of Jan. 12, they had a similar amount of cash on hand: $1,854,548 for him and $1,771,997 for her.

But their paths for arriving at rough financial parity five months before the June 28 Democratic primary — and a general election showdown for one of them with Harford County Executive Barry Glassman (R) — could not have been more different.

Lierman is an indefatigable campaigner and fundraiser, with a campaign team running at full throttle, thousands of donors, and a distinct and identifiable ground game.

Adams, a prosperous federal contractor, has substantially — but not entirely — funded his campaign on his own. He has a skeletal staff at this point, has cycled through several costly consultants, and it seems inevitable that he’ll spend the months leading up to the primary taking his campaign to the airwaves.

With four-term Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) leaving the job to run for governor this year, Lierman or Adams, if they win in November, will be making history: all 33 state comptrollers in Maryland have been white men. Glassman, a seasoned and respected public servant, would also be making history, in a way, if he won, because the last Republican comptroller was elected in 1898.

Glassman has been a steady fundraiser through his career. But so far, he cannot compare to Lierman or Adams.

When Lierman first launched her political career in 2014, with a House run, there was some grousing that she was using the connections of her father, former Maryland Democratic Party Chair Terry L. Lierman, who had a long career as a powerful Capitol Hill staffer and as a successful businessman and lobbyist, to outraise her prospective opponents.

Regardless of whether that criticism was valid then, Lierman has since assembled a list of donors that any Maryland Democratic candidate would envy. Her latest campaign finance report, detailing contributions between mid-January of last year and Jan. 12, 2022, has a dizzying variety of names, mostly from Maryland. It includes leaders at the highest echelons of Baltimore business and civic life; unions and their top officials; people in the world of arts, culture and philanthropy; attorneys, educators and environmentalists; chiefs of banks and financial houses, which may seek state contracts; real estate developers and restaurateurs; energy company executives and industrial manufacturers; medical professionals; lobbyists and political strategists; scientific researchers and tech executives; members of the Kennedy family; and more.

Lierman’s fundraising report is so robust that 22 donors are named Smith. There are 21 Johnsons, 14 Williamses, 12 Millers, 12 Whites, 12 Robinsons and 10 Singhs. There’s a Mark Posner and a Marc Posner. Some people gave $6,000, others gave as little as $5 or $10. Several were recurring donors who tended to give $22 a month.

In the past year, Lierman received contributions from at least 78 current and former elected officials, including former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, former state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, U.S. Rep. Jamie B. Raskin, former U.S. Reps. Beverly Byron and Tom McMillen, Frederick County Executive Jan H. Gardner, the late Attorney General Steve Sachs, who died last week; and House Appropriations Chair Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City). She even received donations from two former Republican elected officials, ex-Del. Robert L. Flanagan and ex-Del. Patrick Hogan, the vice chancellor of government relations at the University System of Maryland — and brother of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R).

Two of the most prominent educators in Maryland are also donors: Former state Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick, and former University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. Kirwan. And the donor list features some bold-faced names from outside Maryland, which suggests the Lierman family reach is still strong. It includes Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream; former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.); former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta; Craigslist founder Craig Newmark; and former national columnist and TV talking head Morton Kondracke.

On Wednesday, CASA in Action, the political arm of the regional immigrants’ rights group CASA, became the latest organization to endorse Lierman. The organization noted that she represents the legislative district with the most immigrants in Baltimore City.

“Brooke Lierman has stood with immigrants and working-class families for decades; from her leadership in protecting tenants in her district and across the state, to her consistent partnership in passing pro-immigrant bills in the legislature,” said Gustavo Torres, president of CASA in Action. “We trust Brooke Lierman to continue fighting for immigrants and people of color when she becomes the next comptroller of Maryland.”

Lierman won’t be able to raise money for the duration of the General Assembly session, which runs through April 11. Yet her donor and endorsement lists suggest that there’s near hegemony among Democratic insiders and their affiliated groups and supporters about how the primary for comptroller ought to go.

Adams loans his campaign $2.2 million

But insiders don’t automatically determine the outcome of elections. And Adams undeniably has the financial wherewithal to take advantage of any weaknesses in Lierman’s battle plan, even if they are hard to detect. He is sure to try to exploit whatever antipathy certain Democratic primary voters may have to the powerbrokers’ group-think.

Adams certainly has a compelling life story: He is a self-made multimillionaire who built a successful government contracting business and persevered after he suffered from a spinal cord injury, which resulted in him becoming a paraplegic. Civically active in Bowie and Prince George’s County, he lost a Democratic primary for state Senate in 2018 but was elected Bowie’s first Black mayor a year later.

Adams loaned his campaign $2,270,000 over the past year, including $1,800,000 on Jan. 11, one day before the close of the reporting period. But he did also bring in $71,912 in contributions from individual donors.

The list of contributions includes $6,000 from Michael Chiaramonte, a health care policy consultant in Alexandria, Va.; $5,000 from prominent Prince George’s County developer Gary Michael; $5,000 from Ted Wiese, a retired T. Rowe Price executive; $1,000 from Somerset Mayor Jeffrey Slavin, a longtime leader of the Maryland Democratic Party and the Maryland Municipal League; and $500 from former Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D).

The two campaigns have also had at least a few donors in common, including Michael Cryor, a former state Democratic chair, and Michael Rosenbaum, the Baltimore tech entrepreneur who dropped out of the gubernatorial election late last fall.

Adams’ campaign has been a boon to high-profile Democratic strategists and consulting firms. In the past year, it reported paying the Washington, D.C., media firm Devine Mulvey Longabaugh Inc. — famous for producing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “America” ad during the 2016 presidential campaign — $83,909. Adams paid Tred Avon Strategies, the firm founded by Franchot’s former chief of staff Len Foxwell, $69,000. It reported paying $66,898 to Rice Consulting, a leading Maryland Democratic fundraising firm. Several other well-known Democratic operatives in Maryland and elsewhere have also been on the payroll, including Mark McLaurin, the former political director of SEIU Local 888 who is now the campaign’s political director.

Lierman has been ubiquitous at in-person and virtual political events around the state for many months; Adams, while hardly invisible, hasn’t hit nearly as many. But Adams’ campaign believes it has momentum and appears to be relishing the notion that Lierman may be tied up by her official duties in Annapolis, even though the House will be meeting virtually until at least mid-February.

“Tim Adams is the most qualified candidate for comptroller in the history of the state, maybe in the history of any state,” said Jessie Koch, a longtime adviser who is now serving as his campaign manager. “We will have the resources to tell every Marylander all about him.”

Glassman’s more conventional report

By the traditional standards of the office he holds and the office he is seeking, Glassman has been no slouch on the fundraising front, and he’s clearly the strongest candidate Republicans have fielded for the job in decades.

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman (R)

Glassman started the fundraising year with $441,476 in his campaign account. He raised $193,030, spent $168,482, and reported $466,024 on hand as of Jan. 12.

Glassman’s fundraising report shows fundraising activities typical of a politically moderate county leader. He reports contributions from scores of local businesses, regional real estate interests, and Annapolis lobbyists like Lisa Harris Jones, Michael Johansen, John A. Pica Jr., and the firm Kress Hammen. Former Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh (R), who is now a top health care official for the Hogan administration, donated $1,000.

Glassman’s largest campaign expenditures were almost $54,000 for Renegade Productions Inc., a video production company in Hunt Valley, and $22,000 for Burton Research and Strategies, a polling firm headed by Jim Burton, the former executive director of the Maryland GOP.

Adams and Lierman have sketched out an expansive view of the comptroller’s job on the campaign trail, arguing that the comptroller can help address societal inequities, environmental justice and economic opportunity in the state. But Glassman is taking a more traditional approach and is stressing his government experience, confident, he said, that voters are looking for “a competent manager in the comptroller’s office…who is not going to inject politics into fiscal management and oversight.”


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Fundraising in the Comptroller Race: Shock and Awe