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Real Estate Money Flowing To Moore In Maryland Governor's Race

As Maryland prepares to vote Nov. 8 on who will be the state's next governor, the real estate industry appears to be heavily favoring the Democratic front-runner. 

Wes Moore, Maryland's Democratic nominee for governor, has raised thousands in campaign cash from real estate developers, investors and brokers.

Real estate developers, investors and brokers have contributed far more money to Democratic nominee Wes Moore than to Republican nominee Dan Cox, according to a Bisnow review of campaign finance records. Experts say the trend is likely a reflection of the status of the race, as Moore holds a commanding lead in the polls. 

“You want to direct your money to the people who will win,” Todd Eberly, associate professor of political science at St. Mary's College of Maryland, said of business donors.

Polls released in the last month show Moore — a bestselling author, combat veteran, former nonprofit CEO and potentially the state’s first Black governor — leading the race by as much as 32 points. Maryland Republicans nominated Cox, a state delegate representing Carroll and Frederick counties and a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, as their candidate. 

That disparity in polling is mirrored in the candidates' campaign coffers.

In August, Moore reported having $1.3M in his campaign account after raising $1.8M in contributions between July 4 and Aug. 23. Cox disclosed having nearly $197K on hand after raising $195K during that same period. 

The campaign finance reports also show how much each campaign raised from donors who describe their occupational industry as real estate: Moore raised over $447K from 272 real estate donors, while Cox raised less than $10K from 19 such individuals.

Prominent Baltimore-area developers, including executives from Seawall Development, Caves Valley Partners, War Horse Cities and 28 Walker Development, have all furnished $6K donations to the Moore campaign, the maximum allowed by Maryland law during a campaign cycle. Kevin Plank, founder of Under Armour, whose Sagamore Ventures holds significant real estate interests, also donated $6K. 

Many of those same donors have also poured money into the campaign account of Moore’s running mate, Delegate Aruna Miller. Executives at Caves Valley Partners made maximum donations to Miller’s lieutenant governor campaign, War Horse Cities' Scott Plank donated $3K to her campaign and Kevin Plank gave her campaign $6K.  

Cox’s running mate, Gordanna Schifanelli, a Queen Anne’s County-based lawyer, reported 10 contributions to her campaign from donors who list real estate as their occupational industry. 

Contributions to candidates from businesses and executives aren’t necessarily an indication of personal support and may not reflect popular sentiment among people who work in a given field, experts said. 

Democrats dominate local politics in the D.C. and Baltimore metro areas and in both houses of the Maryland General Assembly. As a result, political donations from real estate interests in the urban areas generally favor the party with a wide voter registration advantage. 

But Republicans have won three of Maryland's last five gubernatorial elections, including the last two with Gov. Larry Hogan, and local executives haven’t eschewed giving to Republicans in past races. Campaign records show some executives who contributed to Hogan are now supporting the Democratic nominee this year. 

The Maryland State House in Annapolis

Principals at Caves Valley Partners, who donated to Moore this cycle, gave Hogan $4K in the run-up to the 2018 election. Mark Sapperstein, founder of 28 Walker Inc., contributed to Moore in 2021, but he donated $5K to Hogan in 2018 and gave $4K to the Republican State Central Committee of Maryland in 2015. 

That kind of fluid giving is related to the two reasons donors give to office seekers, Eberly said. 

The first reason donors give is because they believe in the candidate and support their policies, he said. On the other hand, donors may see giving as a way to gain favor with potential officeholders. It is that reason, Eberly said, that usually motivates business-oriented donations.  

“There’s no point in currying favor with a candidate who isn’t going to win,” Eberly said.  

Donald Manekin, who co-founded Seawall Development with his son Thibault Manekin, provided Miller and Moore with $6K in donations. His family, including his son, have donated thousands of dollars to the top of the Democratic ticket. 

They are not trying to curry favor with Moore, Donald Manekin said. He has known the candidate for years, and the donations they make to Moore, Miller or any other candidate are an investment in the state’s future, he said.        

“It’s an investment in who I believe should be leading the state of Maryland,” Manekin said.

It isn't only local developers who have showered Moore’s campaign with financial support. New York-based developers have been particularly generous in giving to the Democratic nominee. 

MaryAnne Gilmartin, whose MAG Partners now serves as Port Covington’s master developer, contributed $6K. Aby Rosen of AR Global Management LLC and Fred Wilpon of Sterling Equities both donated at least $5K to Moore’s campaign.

Cox, however, does have the support of the world’s most famous New York real estate developer: Trump. Cox reportedly arranged buses to take constituents to the Jan. 6, 2021, rally that turned into an insurrection, and he has described the 2020 presidential election as "stolen."

The former president hosted a fundraiser for Cox at his Mar-A-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida earlier this month. Tickets for the event cost $1,776. Donors who gave an additional $25K received a photo with Trump and Cox. The campaign has yet to file a report with the state showing how much Cox raised with Trump.

Given the polling, the decision for business leaders to donate to the Democrat in this race isn't particularly surprising, but the lack of crossover between donors to Hogan and Cox shows just how deep the rift is among Maryland’s Republicans.  

Hogan, who is well-liked in state business circles, has made it clear he isn't a fan of Cox’s politics. 

After Cox knocked off Hogan’s preferred candidate, former Maryland Department of Commerce Secretary Kelly Shulz, Hogan said he wouldn't support his party’s gubernatorial nominee. A few weeks later Hogan doubled down and described Cox as not “mentally stable.”