Richard HugThe Governor’s Money Man
How the Maryland GOP plans to repeat history this year
by Sandra Olivetti Martin
“How many of you think 2006 will be easy?” Richard Hug asked the small, early morning herd gathered at a Severna Park church for the year’s first meeting of the Anne Arundel County Elephant Club.
A few arms shot up.
The black-suited, impeccably pressed financier reversed his question. More hands waved.
You’re right, said Hug, “it’s going to be a very difficult race. And I’m going to tell you how we’re going to overcome.”Money Man
As Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s money man, Hug is a bull elephant. He raised $10.5 million to bankroll Ehrlich’s historical victory in 2002; now he is hustling on Ehrlich’s behalf again for what is shaping up as a barn-burner gubernatorial contest in 2006.
In his lapel, Hug, of Arnold, wears an Ehrlich Pioneer button in the shape of a flag, a badge of achievement for those who have raked in at least $100,000 for Ehrlich, whom Hug refers to as Bob. To the voracious Hug, 100K is small change.
Pioneering is a high-dollar concept Hug imported from President George W. Bush, who rewarded fundraisers bringing in $100,000 or more with that title. In the Bush campaign, pioneers were graded Minor League, Major League, Ranger and Double Ranger. Hug is a Super Ranger, meaning that he was responsible for contributions of more than $500,000 in the 2004 election.
That’s not the half of it. As Maryland finance chairman for each of the president’s campaigns, Hug says he raised over $6 million in each election cycle.
Politics is not Hug’s only money game. Many of the state’s notable organizations including the University of Maryland, United Way, the YMCA and the National Aquarium in Baltimore count him among their benefactors. He holds his tie today a dark blue background patterned with tiny powder blue elephants wearing Uncle Sam hats in place with a terrapin studded with three diamonds. That diamond-backed terrapin is the mark of a $5,000 contributor to the University of Maryland’s Terrapin Club, which funds athletic scholarships. Hug, says Athletic Department assistant director Jonathan Evans, “is at a long-time donor level, and there are many different ways to give.”
Dick Hug’s reward for such contributions is a seat at many tables. He is a regent of the University of Maryland, appointed by Ehrlich in 2003, not long before he raised eyebrows by urging huge tuition increases and encouraging students to graduate faster.
In the business world, Hug, 71, is the chair emeritus of Environmental Elements Corporation, a $28 million Baltimore company that supplies air pollution control systems to utilities and manufacturers to meet the requirements of government anti-pollution rules that many Republicans criticize.
He is a past director of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Maryland and the Maryland National Bank. His degrees (B.S. in forestry and a Masters in wood technology), are from Duke University.
Wooing the “Unsophisticated”
You may remember from your days in Latin class that Caesar made it a rule never to underestimate his enemy. Hug’s a strategist of the Caesarean school. Maryland was once a Democratic fiefdom, and Democrats still outnumber Republicans, about 1.8 to 1, by his figuring.
But times they are a’changing, and it’s his side of the two-party system that has been gaining in parts of Maryland, including Anne Arundel and Calvert counties. So Hug’s political calculus works a bit differently.
Subtract Independents who, he says, “generally vote Republican,” and Republicans cross-registered as Democrats to vote in the primary, and he figures the Democratic edge at only 1.35 or 1.4 to 1.
“It’s not a huge hill,” he told the Thursday morning Elephant Club, “but it’s a hill.”
By the time you read these words, Hug will have less than 10 months just how many less he can tell you by the day to surmount the GOP registration disadvantage.
In that climb, money, he says, “is key” so important that he names it first on his list of the three things it takes to win an election: “money, good candidates and a few good ideas.”
In the realm of ideas, underscore few. “Not 50; four or five,” Hug says. You don’t want to confuse voters who, he says, speaking of political advertising, “are not very sophisticated.”
He adds, “they’ll go for the last person who whispers in their ear.”Ready Money
Measured in money, the hill’s slope makes good elephant sledding. That’s a huge change from a little more than a decade ago, when it was Everest for a Republican.
Hug has a story to make his point. Its heroine is Ellen Sauerbrey, appointed by President George W. Bush during the congressional recess last week to the sensitive slot as assistant secretary of state for refugees, population and migration. In 1994, Sauerbrey ran for governor of Maryland. Hug was her finance manager.
Back then, he recounts, “no Republican could raise money.” So Sauerbrey’s campaign settled for public financing.
Only in races for governor is public financing an option in Maryland, and it has been used once, by Ellen Sauerbrey in 1994. Opening that door shuts the door to donor fundraising. It did, however, make Sauerbrey competitive.
“We got $1.6 million and we spent it wisely,” Hug recalls. “We came within 5,993 votes of defeating Parris Glendening in a disputed election.”
Despite the bitter loss, the slope no longer seemed so high.
“We made up our mind a Republican can win,” said Hug, speaking of Sauerbrey’s second gubernatorial bid. “The day after the inauguration, we put together a financial organization. With 100 people in eight regions, we raised $6.4 million in four years, outraising Glendening’s $6.2 million.”
As Hug tells his story, that achievement caught the eye of the young congressman who would be governor. “I signed on to put a team in place in September of 2001,” Hug says. “He announced March 25 of 2002. The rest is history.”
Robert Ehrlich’s upset bested the early favorite, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, in money and trounced her by 70,000 votes.
“The foundation of the party,” Hug tells his now wide-awake herd, “had been established.”Watching Democrats’ Ruckus
“This election is critical,” Hug warns. “If we cannot maintain momentum, the Democrats will say Republicans are irrelevant again.”
Hug ranks candidates, his second element of a winning campaign, on two scores: charisma and competence.
“A candidate has to be likeable,” he says, and has to have “some sense of charisma.”
On that standard, his guy’s competition is Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley. On the other score, Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan is the competition. “Duncan’s competent but not very charismatic,” Hug announces to trumpets of applause from his audience.
“He’s a good singer,” a fellow elephant offers, and the laughter is unanimous.
Still, says Hug, “we need both of them to stay in the race.”
For months, Duncan has been slugging at front-running O’Malley, who’s kept out of that fight but hasn’t been able to avoid bruises. With Maryland’s primary still eight months off, more internecine battles loom.
All this means that Democrats spending money to run against one another have less to wage in the fight to unseat Ehrlich.
After the primary, when the last man standing in the Democratic contest turns to Ehrlich, “there’s not much time,” says Hug, “to raise money.”
On the other hand, Ehrlich, a state office-holder, is shut out of raising money and accepting contributions during the 90-day legislative session that opened this week. The Democrats, who work for city and county government rather than state government, can make hay in those three months.
Where each candidate stands at the start of this election year will make news on January 18, the first campaign finance reporting deadline in a year.
Hug has been in the counting house as the money flowed in. “You’ll see,” he trumpets. “When the numbers are announced, we’ll have three times more money.”