Hoyer War Chest Poses Obstacle for Potential Challengers

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Rep. Steny Hoyer (search), D-Md., had almost $370,000 in cash on hand for his 2004 re-election bid, a campaign war chest that one expert said could make it "very difficult" for any Republican seeking to challenge the 10-term incumbent and second-in-command of House Democrats.

According to the most recent campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission (search), the House minority whip raised more than $417,000 in the first six months of this year and spent more than $297,000. With money left over from previous campaigns, he had $368,031 in the bank as of June 30.

The Maryland Republican Party (search), which had rare success in the state with the election of Robert Erlich to the governor's seat last November, expects to announce a candidate to challenge Hoyer by September.

In the meantime, party officials suggest a challenger may find it tough to mount effective opposition against a congressman being courted by so many groups.

"Of course, [Hoyer] has a lot of money," said Eric Sutton, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party.  "The congressman is in bed with a lot of special interests."

Sutton said contributions from trial lawyers and political action committees (PACs) have played a large role in financing Hoyer's campaign.

A spokeswoman for Hoyer, Katie Elbert, said the representative's office would not respond to Sutton's statement.

According to his latest FEC filing, Hoyer's campaign does rely heavily on contributions from PACs. It said he has received contributions from 114 different PACs since April. Since January, the campaign has taken in about $314,000 from such committees.

Steven Weiss of the non-profit Center for Responsive Politics (search) said that the average member of Congress finances about 40 percent of his or her campaign with PAC contributions (search), whereas Hoyer has about 75 percent of his campaign financed by PACs.

"He certainly has a high proportion of money coming from PACs," said Weiss. He said that might be due to Hoyer's leadership role in Congress, which would mean industries do not view his vote as having geographic limitations.

"This signifies he appeals to industry and issue initiatives across the country," he said.

But Weiss also noted that the average federal campaign last year got about 7 percent of its PAC money from labor groups. The Center for Responsive Politics (search) said more than four times that amount — 31 percent — of Hoyer's PAC money this year has come from labor.

Josh White, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party (search), downplayed the significance of fund-raising in the race, saying Hoyer's bank account will not make or break his campaign.

"I don't think it matters," White said. "Steny Hoyer's so popular that people look for his name on the ballot," he said.