With so many candidates, the May 14 Democratic primary to replace departing U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-3rd) may become a game of inches, with candidates scrambling to attract micro-segments of the electorate.
The apparent closeness of the race was reinforced when two of the 18 Democrats currently in the primary essentially tied when it came to raising money in the final weeks of 2023.
According to campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission Wednesday night, state Sen. Sarah K. Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel) raised the greatest amount of money of all the candidates in the weeks since Sarbanes announced his retirement plans in late October and had the most money in the bank at the close of the year.
But state Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard and Anne Arundel) was very close in both fundraising and the size of his campaign treasury, especially when considering how much each candidate has available to spend on the primary.
Of all candidates who entered the race before the new year, Elfreth and Lam seem the most equipped to continue to be aggressive on the fundraising front.
But a new and uncertain element was introduced into the primary dynamic in January, when Harry Dunn, a hero cop at the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, entered the race. The political neophyte has just begun to ramp up his campaign organization — and is already attracting national attention. Whether he also attracts a steady stream of campaign contributions as a result of his high profile is a major unknown.
A handful of other Democrats have also entered the race since the beginning of the year. Like Dunn, none of these candidates was required to file campaign finance statements with the FEC this week. The latest reports cover fundraising and spending activities between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, and the next round are due to be filed on April 15, covering the first quarter of this year. By then, the full field of candidates will be known, because the filing deadline is Feb. 9.
Fundraising, of course, isn’t everything in a congressional campaign, but in a crowded primary it can make a difference.
Elfreth, as she announced previously, reported raising $402,576.14 since joining the 3rd District race in November. She spent $29,244.18 during that period and finished the year with $373,331.96 in the bank.
But because there is a cap on the amount of money a donor can give a federal candidate for a primary (a similar cap exists for general election donations), Elfreth is unable to use $27,370 of what she raised until the general election, according to a Maryland Matters analysis of her finance report. That means Elfreth finished 2023 with $345,961.96 available for the primary.
Lam reported raising $354,499.99 from late November to the end of December, and finished the year with $333,039.99 on hand after spending $21,460. He appeared to have raised $950 that is ineligible to be used in the primary.
Lam on Thursday announced that he has been endorsed by Food & Water Action, the political arm of the national environmental group Food & Water Watch.
The group cited Lam’s environmental record in the legislature, including measures to ban fracking chemicals, regulate the pesticide chlorpyrifos, stop oil trains from running through Baltimore, and strengthen Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard.
“Clarence Lam has been a champion for the people of Maryland, working tirelessly to protect Maryland’s families from harmful pollution,” said Food & Water Action Political Director Sam Bernhardt. “He has proven himself willing to take on the biggest polluting industries, no matter how powerful they are. We know he will use that same energy to be a champion for the American people as a member of Congress.”
More CD-3 fundraising
Three other members of the General Assembly are also competing for the Democratic nomination in the race to replace Sarbanes:
- Del. Mike Rogers (D-Anne Arundel) raised $90,792 before the end of 2023 and reported $82,828.74 on hand after spending $7,963.76.
- Del. Terri L. Hill (D-Howard) raised $75,140 — including a $1,500 contribution she made to the campaign — and finished 2023 with $72,714.60 in the bank after spending $2,425.40.
- Del. Mark S. Chang (D-Anne Arundel) reported raising $66,875 in the final weeks of 2023, but that included a $16,000 loan he made to the campaign. He finished the year with $59,692.19 after spending $7,182.81.
One other state lawmaker, Del. Vanessa E. Atterbeary (D-Howard), dropped out of the congressional race in December, but not before raising $19,350 and spending $6,270.48. She had $13,079.52 in her federal campaign fund as of Dec. 31.
Only two other Democratic candidates for the 3rd District seat filed end-of-the-year reports showing any financial activity in 2023: Anne Arundel County businessman Juan Dominguez, who switched to the House race from the U.S. Senate primary in early January, reported raising $43,068 in the final quarter of the year and banking $29,571.92 after spending $51,219.11 during that three-month period.
All of that money was raised and spent for the Senate race. All told, Dominguez raised $291,203.03 and spent $261,631.11 to run for Senate.
Anne Arundel businesswoman Abigail Diehl reported raising $35,925 before the end of the year and hadn’t spent a dime by Dec. 31.
Of the eight Republicans currently in the race — all of whom would be serious underdogs in the general election — only Berney Flowers, a retired Air Force officer, reported any 2023 financial activity with the FEC, and most of it came from his own pocket. He reported raising $13,473.85, including $12,677.30 from himself, and banking $9,845.66 after spending $3,628.19.
Check back with Maryland Matters for more reporting on FEC reports soon.