Posted: Jan. 27, 2004


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

A surprise in the batch of 2003 campaign finance reports was the treasury that had the most money in it next to the governor's.

It was not the one for William Swain Lee, who has the Republican nomination for governor all but locked up. It was not the one for Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr., the Democratic running mate for Gov. Ruth Ann Minner.

The robust treasury belonged to state Treasurer Jack A. Markell, the two-term Democrat who is not even up for election until 2006.

Markell's campaign account quietly sat a shade under $200,000 -- a combination of $76,949 he had left over from his 2002 election along with new contributions of $155,543 and expenditures of $33,497 for a total balance of $198,995.

It was hardly up there with Minner, who had $636,190, but it loomed over Lee at $107,730 and Carney at $117,655, and it certainly made Markell look like a man who wants to go places, if not this election, then in the future.

While Markell's name is a staple in the speculation about the next generation of governors or members of Congress, he is not about to fuel it himself. "This is a business you take a day at a time," he said.

Markell said he would defer his fund raising this year to other Democrats who are running for office and need to mine the state for contributions. "I expect to try to help other candidates," he said. Of course, helping others is something else politicians do when they expect to go far. 

Campaign finance reports covering contributions and expenditures for 2003 were due last week in the state election commissioner's office. This excludes the reports to be filed by Delaware's congressional delegation with the Federal Election Commission by the end of the month.

As political money goes, those three members of Congress constitute a class of their own. Reports already filed display typically hefty treasuries -- nearly a million dollars for U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, a Republican who is on the 2004 ballot, and hundreds of thousands of dollars for U.S. Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Thomas R. Carper, Democrats who are not up this year.

Among the campaigns for state office, the most expensive is expected to be the governor's race, where no one would be surprised if Minner and Lee each spent $2 million or $3 million -- not after Minner spent about $1.5 million in 2000.

To date, it is Minner's fund raising that has found the mother lode. In the three years since her last race, she has parlayed what is generally regarded as the most coveted office in state politics into nearly a million dollars in campaign contributions -- $235,104 in 2001, $131,168 in 2002 and $592,353 in 2003 for a total of $958,625.

After expenditures -- including roughly $60,000 for a pollster and $12,000 for a political consultant last year -- Minner had $636,190 in the bank.

Her contributions came from a variety of sources -- among them, the unions like the auto workers and the carpenters that typically give to Democrats, law firms like Duane Morris and Klett Rooney Lieber & Schorling that can show up on the reports of both major parties, and bank executives known to lean Republican. For example, MBNA's Charles M. Cawley, who is part of President George W. Bush's elite ranks of contributors, gave Minner $1,200, the maximum allowed by state law.

At this stage Lee's fund raising lags behind Minner's. After losing the 2000 nomination for governor by a microscopically-thin 46 votes, Lee had negligible financial activity in 2001 and 2002. He collected $153,374 in contributions in 2003 and was left with $107,730 in his account after expenses, including about $15,000 for polling.

Lee promised to pick up the pace. "I have a terrible weakness for a politician. I hate to make phone calls," he said. "We've never expected to reach $3 million. We expect the governor will. Two million does it. My ideal campaign is $1.5 million. After that, you start wasting money."

While candidates for governor and lieutenant governor are elected separately in Delaware, the parties in recent years have preferred to let the gubernatorial nominee designate someone as a running mate. Minner has committed to Carney, but Lee has yet to decide.

In the meantime, Republican Kelly L. Gates is waging her own campaign for lieutenant governor. Her financial records show she collected $15,789 and spent $9,847 for a balance of $5,942.

The gubernatorial field also includes Republican Michael D. Protack, who failed to show any sort of financial base. Almost every dollar of nearly $7,300 spent on his campaign in 2003 came out of his own pocket.