On Wednesday, political observers across the region will eagerly hit refresh on the state board of elections’ campaign finance website, as candidates and political committees disclose their fundraising numbers for the first time in a year.
This round of reporting is big news for a few reasons. For one, we haven’t had an official glimpse into campaign coffers since this time last year. Since no local races were held in 2023, campaigns and other political fundraising groups were not required to report any additional financial activities.
That’s a long radio silence — and it couldn’t be broken at a better time. We’re barely four months away from the May 14 primary, which is shaping up to be competitive in Baltimore. Mayor Brandon Scott is facing off against former Mayor Sheila Dixon, who he narrowly beat in 2020. City Council President Nick Mosby, also a first-term official, is facing challenges from Councilman Zeke Cohen and former Councilwoman Shannon Sneed.
The deadline for this round reports is 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.
Some politicians might hand in their homework a little early, like Baltimore City State’s Attorney Ivan Bates, whose treasurer uploaded the campaign’s report a rare full day early. Bates, a first-term prosecutor who isn’t up for reelection until 2026, reported having about $52,500 on hand and having fundraised nearly $249,000. He spent $137,000 repaying himself for a campaign loan.
But in general, campaigns tend to creep up against the deadline, and I don’t expect them to break that tradition.
Here are the questions I’ll be thinking about as I wait for a hard look at the numbers.
Who’s on top in the mayor’s race?
Traditionally, incumbent officials have an easier time cashing checks than challengers. This time last year, Scott reported having nearly $451,000 on hand. Dixon reported just under $5,000 — admitting she never liked fundraising.
City businesses, unions, and power brokers tend to kiss the ring. Seeing how much they donate to Scott, and whether they eschew the incumbent for a challenger, is a temperature check on how they view his tenure.
Both Scott and Dixon are using their longtime fundraisers Colleen Martin-Lauer and Rachael Rice, respectively. I’m curious to see whether either candidate spent money on consultants they don’t usually work with; doing so could indicate they need to change strategies or that they feel threatened.
I’m also curious about Bob Wallace’s numbers. The businessman ran as an independent in the 2020 mayoral general election and loaned himself about $300,000 during the 2020 election. His wife, Carolyn Green, loaned him $50,000. This cycle, he’s running as a Democrat. His January 2023 finance report showed a discrepancy between his campaign’s bank account balance and cash balance; the former lists a $975 balance, while the latter lists a $13,181 balance.
Such discrepancies are not unusual; they usually happen when a campaign is understaffed and doesn’t have enough staffers to check the treasurer’s map. I wonder whether this will be resolved and if the campaign will have spent money on polling or top-flight consultants — two signs that would suggest they are assessing the field and gearing up for a fight. Wallace has faced personal financial consequences for spending a significant amount of his own money and losing. Will he be willing to do that again? He hasn’t publicly said.
Wendy Bozel, an Upper Fells Point community activist and former city schools teacher, is running using Baltimore’s public financing system. Her report will likely include many small donations.
Dixon lost to Scott by just a few thousand votes in 2020, and all signs point to another very competitive primary.
Did the super PAC supporting Sheila Dixon rake in big donations?
The Better Baltimore PAC was formed by a formidable fundraising group before Dixon had officially thrown her hat in the mayoral race.
In August, employees of Adeo Advocacy formed the super PAC to support Dixon’s candidacy. Super PACs are different from standard campaign fundraising accounts — they may receive unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations, unions and other political action committees. Super PAC operators can then spend that money on any sort of activities that support a political platform, such as ads for a candidate or polls. But they cannot directly donate to a candidate’s campaign account, nor coordinate directly with campaigns or parties.
By contrast, donations to Maryland candidates are capped at $6,000 per cycle.
The question I’m most excited to answer on Wednesday — one I’m sure the Dixon campaign is, too — is whether donors cut hefty checks to the super PAC.
In recent years, some power brokers were unafraid to dig deep.
David Smith, the executive chairman of media company Sinclair Inc., who personally purchased The Baltimore Sun Media Group, spent more than $500,000 financing a 2022 ballot issue that successfully added term limits for City Hall officials. The same committee tried unsuccessfully to create an amendment to recall elected officials.
It’s clear that Smith is less than pleased with Scott’s performance as mayor. Did that translate into money from him or others?
How are other competitive races shaping up
City Council President Nick Mosby faces a challenge from Councilman Zeke Cohen, who currently represents Southeast Baltimore.
Mosby is the exception to the rule that incumbents have a fundraising advantage: He reported having more than $1000 on hand in his January 2023 report, though he has said he fundraises in cycles rather than one consistent push. Cohen, meanwhile, reported a 2023 war chest exceeding $370,000, an impressive sum for a council member.
Cohen has led Mosby in early polling, but a majority of voters were undecided. Shannon Sneed, a former city councilwoman who came in second to Mosby in the 2020 primary, is also running — using public financing. The number of donors who contributed to her campaign will give us insight into the enthusiasm for her campaign. All three Democrats will need to pitch voters on their agendas, and resources will be important.
Cohen is vacating his 1st District council seat by running for the council’s top position. Mark Parker, a community activist and pastor at Breath of God Lutheran Church in Highlandtown, is running to replace him as a Democrat, as is Liam Davis, a current city Department of Transportation staffer. Davis reported having $27,432 on hand this time last year. Parker reported having $48,856.
Councilman Kristerfer Burnett is vacating his position in the 8th District, which represents West Baltimore. He has endorsed Paris Gray, who worked in Burnett’s office as a community outreach coordinator, as his replacement. Gray’s campaign has yet to report any financial activity.