WASHINGTON - Rep. Chris Van Hollen may have been overwhelmingly re-elected
almost a month ago, but campaign manager Chuck Westover still trudges to the
Democrat's Kensington campaign headquarters every day for work.
"We still have some things to do -- like community outreach and, of course,
fund raising . . . these things (campaigns) are expensive," said Westover, part
of a whittled-down campaign staff of four that includes his assistant, a
fund-raiser and a treasurer.
Van Hollen is not alone. All eight House incumbents from Maryland -- who won
easy re-election this month -- still have campaign offices open. And they plan to
keep them open, although staffs will eventually be trimmed to just the money
Political experts and campaign officials said that a perpetual, if slim,
campaign staff is required these days to cope with the rising costs of House
races and the short two-year time span between elections.
The average cost of a winning House campaign this year -- more than $1
million -- is nearly twice what a winning race cost 10 years ago, according to
an analysis by the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute.
The institute's associate director, Steve Weissman, attributes the increase
to several factors, including a growing reliance on expensive media advertising
and a desire to "scare off" potential competitors by amassing an overwhelming
But critics argue that the focus on fund-raising is harmful because it
detracts from politician's ability to spend time on official duties.
James Browning, the executive director of Maryland Common Cause, said House
candidates "have to spend a lot of time dialing for dollars" almost immediately
after being elected, and "it has gotten in the way of governing."
Rep. Albert R. Wynn agrees. The six-term Mitchellville Democrat said the
rising cost of running requires House members to "spend an inordinate amount of
time fund-raising" because "your next primary is 18 months away."
"A lot of critics think that we should spend time focusing on smaller
donations and not union and political action committee donations. Well, that's
all well and good, but it would take even more time for us to solicit
individuals," Wynn said.
The nation's founders shared those concerns about the demands of House
campaigns more than 200 years ago, according to David C. King, a political
scientist at Harvard.
"The tension between running all the time and having electoral leeway is as
old as the country," he said. King said a draft of the Constitution called for
one-year House terms, and that another year was added to in response to the
Some critics have argued that making House terms even longer than two years
would free officeholders from the need to jump back into fund-raising
immediately after an election, and give them more time to govern.
But congressional scholar Norman Ornstein points out that many U.S. senators
-- who serve six-year terms -- engage in the campaign fund race just as soon
after re-election as their House counterparts.
Senators perceive the benefit of deterring potential opponents with piles of
money, Ornstein said, and others simply "get it while they can because they
"And others raise money that they might not need because they can distribute
it -- to their parties and to colleagues who might need it -- and have their
favors remembered," Ornstein said.
Maryland Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes is not one of those candidates. Of the
33 senators up for re-election in 2006, Sarbanes had the second-lowest campaign
amount as of Sept. 30, reporting just $22,250 in his last filing with the
Federal Elections Commission.
Maryland's House members enjoy no such luxury.
Westover said that while he and his assistant will be let go on Dec. 1, Van
Hollen's campaign fund-raiser and treasurer will stay on until the next
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, will keep his campaign office open through
the 2006 election, said campaign manager and daughter Melissa Bartlett.
"You're talking to the staff," she said recently, adding that she will assume
all campaign responsibilities except fund-raising, which will be handled by a
In Wynn's campaign office, "the fund-raisers have to stick around because in
about a year the campaign has to have money to gear up for the next race," said
campaign manager Martin Casas.
While Casas is on staff for now, he expects to leave soon. He said
non-fund-raising staffers are usually brought back to the campaign in the spring
before the next election, when organization resumes its importance.
King said there is an upside to the short time between House elections.
Without it, he said, politicians might "lose the discipline of the campaign" and
become out of touch with the needs of their constituents.
But while he does not think that extending House terms is wise, he draws a
difference between time spent interacting with constituents and time spent
"The perpetual campaign is a good thing," he said, "but it is not the same
thing as the perpetual massing of a war chest."
2004 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of