Democratic Voter Canvasses This Weekend

Information from the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee:

Before the 2018 elections we need to reach as many Democrats as possible, especially infrequent voters. Please join the Montgomery County Democratic Party to canvass voters in one of three locations this weekend!

P.S. Can’t make it this weekend? Email office@mcdcc.org for other canvass opportunities in Montgomery County or check out www.mcdcc.org.

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Analysis: Bill Frick Announces Campaign for County Executive

Frick Announcement by David Lublin on Scribd

Del. Bill Frick (D-16) has announced his bid for county executive. He should attract a lot of attention and interest because he’s the first person who is not a member of the County Council to jump into the race in a year when many voters are looking for someone new yet seems up to the job.

As Adam Pagnucco has analyzed, based on the support for term limits among Democrats, it’s a real plus that Frick is not associated with the current gang running the County. While other candidates will definitely hold him accountable for his actions in Annapolis, it is not at all clear to me that voters will rush to blame the State for decisions made in Rockville.

Being new to most voters also gives Frick a chance to introduce himself along with his ideas simultaneously. He’ll probably want to take a few more daring, clearcut positions that existing candidates in order to claim some issues and set himself apart from the pack.

Frick should also be an appealing campaigner. When he went for the delegate vacancy in District 16, he was not the favorite for the appointment. He won it when he blew away the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee with his presentation.

Ironically, though Frick is thus far the only non-Jewish candidate in the race, he has real potential to appeal to Jewish voters. Growing up where he did in Montgomery County, my bet is that he attended more Bar Mitzvahs than I did. Remember that many Jewish areas in MoCo voted for Ike Leggett over Steve Silverman.

Frick will face some challenges as well as opportunities. After an abortive race for attorney general four years ago and dabbling heavily with running for Congress, he will need to sell observers on his real commitment to County government.

He will also need to work fast to define himself in an appealing way that stands out before others do it for him–something that will require money whether inside or outside the new public financing system. Even attacks, however, can create opportunities. MCGEO’s Gino Renne, for example, has criticized Frick in the past but could serve as a useful foil.

Among the existing candidates, Roger Berliner is the big loser and Marc Elrich is the big winner from Bill Frick’s entry. Berliner was positioned to be the more practical, pro-business candidate. Frick could attract much of that support if business decides to unify around a fresh face who is more willing to forthrightly support aspects of their agenda.

As the leading progressive candidate in the race, Elrich will benefit if less strongly left-wing candidates split up the vote. He could benefit further if other candidates in the same political space enter the race. Leventhal may also try to claim the progressive mantle but will likely lack the validators needed to make it credible.

Bill Frick’s entry certainly shakes up the race. My guess is that voters welcome his candidacy as a breath of fresh air. Whether his campaign catches fire remains to be seen.

UPDATE: Bethesda Beat’s Andrew Metcalf reports that Frick does not plan to participate in the public financing system: “‘I’d rather raise my own funds than spend the taxpayers’ dollars on my campaign,’ Frick said about his decision.”

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Why Gabe Albornoz is Running for County Council At-Large

Today, Seventh State is pleased to present a guest post by Gabe Albornoz.

Not long after the final results were announced in the 2016 Presidential cycle a sense of frustration and sadness spread through our county and country. There was a documented increase in reported hate crimes. Not even Montgomery County was immune to the hate and bigotry that was spreading across the country. In response to the tension inflicting our community, County Executive Leggett appointed a team of senior officials from his administration to produce an event that reaffirmed Montgomery County values. I was honored to have been appointed to that committee and serve as the emcee for an event that would be called the The Montgomery Way.

The event took place a few weeks after the election on a cold November day on Veterans Plaza. The elements did not stop over a thousand residents from hearing messages of love, tolerance and peace from elected officials, public officials, inter-faith leaders, and students. The Montgomery Way celebrates our diversity and inclusion; promotes economic prosperity for all; ensures the best possible education for all children; and establishes a high quality of life for its residents, especially those most vulnerable. The event reaffirmed everything I love about Montgomery County and played a big role in my decision to run for Elected Office.

I have deep Montgomery County roots as a lifelong resident, a graduate of MCPS and have lived in Gaithersburg, Bethesda, Silver Spring, and now in Kensington with my wife Catherine, also a native of Montgomery County, and our four young children. My parents immigrated from Chile and Ecuador; both attended Montgomery College and instilled in me the value of hard work and to treat everyone with dignity and respect. It is a gift to have been raised here. I believe it is my responsibility, elected or not, to pass its opportunities on to all of our children and future generations.

I have dedicated my career to public service and fighting for just social policies through my work in the non-profit sector and more recently as a member of County Executive Ike Leggett’s cabinet. I have always considered my work as Director of the Department of Recreation, Chair of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee and service in other public sector roles to be a privilege.

I have worked to improve the quality of life for County residents by growing our recreational programs, addressing the opportunity gaps among our children through expanded after-school programs, and leading efforts to keep our senior citizens in their homes and active in the community. I have learned much from my hands-on experiences working collaboratively with diverse communities and constituencies and have the skill, passion and perspective to promote respectful engagement and unity in our County.

Maintaining the greatness and opportunity of our County will require commitment and effort, which is why I am running for County Council. We are facing difficult challenges including aging infrastructure, a fast-growing school system, a stretched safety-net struggling to keep pace with the complex needs of our more vulnerable residents, growing economic disparity among communities, difficult traffic challenges and unmet affordable housing needs.

These challenges come as financial support from federal and state governments are at significant risk of being cut and our local fiscal options to respond are limited. What is not limited is this county’s ability to be imaginative, thoughtful and determined in efforts to address our challenges justly, creatively and effectively. I will bring experienced, inclusive and bold leadership to the next County Council as it carries out its role in charting our county’s future.

I believe that elected office is a noble profession and provides a clear and tangible opportunity to impact social change and serve as a bridge between communities and sectors.  I intend to work closely with other key public stakeholders including the Board of Education, Planning Board, Executive Branch, State Delegation, Montgomery College and others along with leaders in the Non-profit, Business, LGBTQ, Labor, Faith, Health and Civic Communities to collaboratively address the known and unknown challenges ahead.  I humbly seek this office knowing I will follow many other political leaders, among them my current boss, Ike Leggett.

I want to thank my friends, family and especially my wife Catherine and our kids for their incredible support. For the next year, I will meet with residents across the County to better understand your interests, aspirations, and concerns. I invite you to join me on this journey.  To learn more, please visit my website www.gabeforcouncil.com.

Gabe Albornoz is running for Montgomery County Council At-Large.

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David Blair is Polling

Sources report that David Blair, a businessman and prospective candidate for Montgomery County Executive, has a poll in the field. The poll tests views on a number of topics and messages, including:

  • Support for the Purple Line
  • Whether Takoma Park has an unfair advantage over the rest of the County.
  • Messages based on running against Trump using national issues.
  • Impact of a series of positives about Blair, including his support for an interactive children’s center in Rockville and providing glasses for the needy.
  • Support for Del. Bill Frick and former Councilmember Mike Knapp in addition to declared candidates and Blair.
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Ana Sol Gutierrez Files for Public Financing in Council District 1

By Adam Pagnucco.

Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, who has served District 18 since 2002, has created a public financing account for a run in Council District 1.  While Ana is known for running up big vote totals in Wheaton, she actually lives in Chevy Chase and is eligible to run in the increasingly jam-packed D1 race.  Ana is known for her passionate work on behalf of immigrants and her enthusiastic support for the Purple Line, the latter being unusual among District 18 state legislators.  Her run for council will have a huge impact on both the District 1 and District 18 races, subjects on which David Lublin and I will have plenty to say in the near future.

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Why Charity and Public Financing Don’t Mix

Adam Pagnucco was very kind in his discussion of problems regarding County Council Candidate Brandy Brooks’s desire to split funds raised for her campaign with disaster relief charities. He ascribed positive motives to the candidate and described her idea as ethical but not legal in contrast to behavior by some that is not ethical but nonetheless legal.

Charitable contributions from campaign funds, however, are heavily circumscribed to charitable events that are closely related to campaigns, such as buying tickets for an event or an ad in a program, for a number of good reasons.

The first is to avoid the public having to fund a candidate’s chosen charities on top of funding their campaign—an idea that Our Revolution Montgomery County Ed Fischman thought was great in his original, later altered, post sharing Brooks’s idea. Beyond the considerable cost, the County did not adopt public financing to fund charities but to encourage behavior that limits the influence of large contributors and reins in spending.

Next, one can imagine candidates throwing fundraisers in the guise of raising money for charity as a means of meeting the threshold to receive matching funds for public financing. This would obviously subvert the intent of the law, which was to force candidates to raise money in relatively small amounts from a wide range of people. As a result, qualifying for matching funds would no longer demonstrate a certain level of grassroots support.

The definition of charity is also quite wide with many organizations engaged in activities much more controversial than disaster relief. One can, for example, set up 501(c)(3)—an organization that can accept tax-free charitable contributions—to educate people about the dangers of abortion or the benefits of abortion remaining a legal option.

On the other hand, how would government assess Brooks’s nice proposal to donate money for disaster relief in Sierra Leone if the charity is not a legally registered American organization and not subject to scrutiny? It’s a very worthy cause but hard for either officials or citizens to assess.

Donors might also start trying to claim a portion of campaign donations as tax write offs. My guess is they would be on shaky ground because there would be little concrete evidence that the money went to a legal charity beyond a candidate’s promise to spend it that way. Nevertheless, as Donald Trump has demonstrated vividly, not everyone fulfills promises to give to charity but many are willing to try to claim dubious tax benefits.

Unscrupulous people have organized charities in which the bulk of the money goes to employees, often relatives, rather to the charity’s avowed focus. Again, clearly not Brooks’s focus here, but a real problem that the State would need to guard against.

Relatedly, mixing charity and campaign finance would further burden government with trying to keep track of what portion of donations are charitable contributions and if they were then donated in a legal fashion. This is a task they are completely ill-equipped to conduct and would require more money and staff.

In short, this is a great example of how a well-intentioned idea can prove very problematic.

Brooks and Our Revolution Responses

Brandy Brooks gave a response on the Seventh State’s Facebook page that shows a candidate dealing with a campaign issue in a calm, measured way designed to reassure voters. Most will commend her commitment to adhere to the law and will (like Adam Pagnucco and myself) not think that she ever intended otherwise.

On the other hand, her plan to spend money on the legally allowed activities, such as buying tickets to events, does not comport with what most think of as disaster relief. A tendency to jump in without thinking through an idea can give voters pause, though her measured response and a willingness to correct problems shows character and limits any damage.

Our Revolution Montgomery County Chair Ed Fischman’s strong accusations against Adam Pagnucco and passionate use of naiveté as a defense on this page earlier today are less helpful. Voters like candidates with passion but also people and organizations, such as Our Revolution, to know what they’re doing.

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Our Revolution Responds

Edward Fischman of Our Revolution Montgomery County responds to yesterday’s post:

Adam Pagnucco wrote a piece here in The Seventh State that starts with a legal conclusion that isn’t clear. It accuses Brandy Brooks’ campaign of breaking the law. Ms. Brooks has discussed the matter with the State Board of Elections and has obtained definitive guidance on how to achieve the charitable goals she set out to accomplish with her Power 100 promotion.

I am writing because Mr. Pagnucco’s piece curiously dragged me into the matter, because I shared her promotion in a post on social media (editor’s note: posted above). We are in a strange era where the act of sharing a post on Facebook post becomes news in itself. So be it.

There is an important lesson or two in these events. First, politics is a game played for keeps. Those of us who have become involved in grassroots organizing may be unprepared for the consequences, but it seems we must be careful about what we share in social media when we are promoting a cause or a candidate we are interested in. If we embellish in sharing a candidate’s own carefully crafted online postings, we must be careful that we are not misstating anything or we risk hurting the cause, organization or candidate we wish to promote. I goofed.
There must be, however, a concomitant obligation for those who seek to be opinion-makers and newsmakers in blogging about politics. Mr. Pagnucco’s piece used my mistake to call out Brandy Brooks’ campaign. That was without basis in fact, fairness or good sense. Even a cursory effort to inquire would have led Mr. Pagnucco in a different direction.

After I posted in a Facebook group to share Ms. Brooks well-intended fundraising effort to facilitate charitable donation by her supporters, one councilmember helpfully raised a concern to me about it. That accomplished two things. First, it forced me to look at what I’d written and realize that I’d badly mischaracterized Ms. Brooks’ own promotion of this effort. I corrected that within an hour of the original posting — and noted that I was correcting my own error.

The other thing that this councilmember’s outreach achieved was it spurred me to find a way to connect with Ms. Brooks campaign to raise that councilmember’s concerns about whether Ms. Brooks’ page adequately explained the program in a way that would be one hundred percent kosher. By the end of the day, I had managed to make contact and share the concern. The next day — Saturday — I also sought the candidate at a public event over the weekend, to make sure she understood why I thought it was important for them to speak to the State Board of Elections to make certain the effort was conducted consistently with state financing laws and regulations.

I am impressed with Brandy Brooks’ candidacy. I have no role with the campaign, and certainly do not represent her. Mr. Pagnucco wrote it was “unclear” if I am connected with the campaign. There’s an unspoken implication that i might be. Whatever his role in writing on this site, Mr. Pagnucco has worked in journalism and should know better. He could have asked me — or asked the Brooks campaign — about whether I was connected to the campaign, and about the nature of my post. I would have told him that I did not know Brandy Brooks 2 months ago and before this and interacted with her less than an handful of times. Also, I could have pointed out to him that I had revised my Facebook pose, to correct my error in describing the Power 100 effort.

My description was a mistake, but it is no way newsworthy. I was deeply concerned when I realized what I’d mistakenly described the campaign’s proposal for the donations — but thought I’d done very little harm, as it received one “Like,” before I corrected it. Finding my error reposted at the Seventh State is…both surprising and embarrassing, but my reputation is not my aim in writing here. I do not want my error to reflect badly on Brandy Brooks’ campaign.

After the piece was published, Brandy reached out to me to tell me not to worry about any of this — and thanked for me trying to be helpful in sharing information about the opportunity to support her campaign and charities she felt worthy. She has explained to me what steps she is taking to remain compliant with Maryland’s campaign financing laws.

More importantly though, she has shown me incredible grace and empathy, reaffirming my initial impressions of her. Grace and empathy are qualities that too often seem missing in our society in our politics and in our government. These were the qualities that motivated Ms. Brooks’ intention to encourage charitable support for disaster victims.
Those of us who opine in public forums could all use an injection of grace and empathy. That should be our starting point. When those qualities are replaced by cynicism, we are all made smaller.
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At-Large Candidate’s Proposal Breaks Campaign Finance Laws

By Adam Pagnucco.

Council At-Large candidate Brandy Brooks, who is participating in MoCo’s public financing system, would like to help natural disaster victims.  That’s a laudable goal.  But she is proposing to spend campaign contributions to do so.  The problem is that’s illegal under state and county campaign finance laws.

On her website and on Facebook, Brooks promotes an initiative that she calls “Power 100,” in which she invites 100 contributors to donate a combined $2,500 to her campaign, half of which would be paid out to a number of charities helping natural disaster victims.  The charities include organizations helping victims of Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, a mudslide in Sierra Leone and floods in South Asia.

Brooks supporter Ed Fischman went a step further in a posting on the Our Revolution in Montgomery County Facebook page, asserting that public matching funds would be used for disaster relief.  To be fair, it’s unclear whether Fischman speaks for Brooks and Brooks has not yet qualified for public matching funds.

State and county campaign finance laws prohibit these kinds of expenditures.  According to the State Board of Elections’ Summary Guide, there must be a nexus between campaign account expenditures and the promotion of a candidate’s campaign for those expenditures to be legal.  The guide specifically addresses charitable contributions, stating:

Generally, campaign funds may not be used solely for charitable purposes. Maryland law requires campaign funds to be used for the purpose of supporting or opposing a candidate, question, or political committee. Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind that contributors give to campaign committees for one important reason – they want to support the committee’s candidate, question, or political party. When campaign funds are spent for a non-campaign related purpose, it frustrates the intent of the contributor.

However, there are instances when a charitable donation is permissible because it is for a campaign purpose. For example, a candidate may permissibly use campaign funds to attend a charitable event since attending the event increases the candidate’s visibility and allows the candidate to network with potential voters and donors.

ง 13-247 of state election law does allow certain kinds of charitable contributions to be made by accounts that are closing and liquidating their assets, a case that clearly does not apply to Brooks.

Additionally, Montgomery County’s public campaign financing law states, “A participating candidate may only use the eligible contributions and the matching public contribution for a primary or general election for expenses incurred for the election.”  This statement is repeated in the county’s summary of the law.  No one could construe helping disaster relief victims as a primary or general election expense.  It’s noteworthy that the county’s language applies not just to public funds but also to individual contributions made under the public financing program.

Your author really hated to write this blog post but it had to be done.  Generally speaking, when we have examined campaign finance issues in the past, we have sometimes seen behavior that may not be ethical but is legal.  This case is the opposite: what Brooks is doing comes from the best of intentions but does not comply with the law.  Brooks is free to discuss the plight of disaster victims all she wants.  She could also organize a private fundraiser for victims separate from her campaign account.  But if she goes ahead and uses her campaign funds for disaster relief contributions, she will risk sanctions from the state, the county or both.

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