All posts by David Lublin

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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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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Robinson, Platt Endorse Shnider in Council District 3

Montgomery County Council District 3 candidate Ben Shnider has been endorsed by Delegates Shane Robinson (D-39), Andrew Platt (D-17) and the leader of a hotel employees local union.  Former Council Member Valerie Ervin (D-5) has also offered praise for Shnider’s candidacy.  We reprint Shnider’s press release below.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 15, 2015

Contact:  Ilya Braverman

Email:     ilya@shniderforcouncil.com

Website: https://www.shniderforcouncil.com

Progressive Leaders Endorse Ben Shnider for Montgomery County Council in District 3

Delegates Robinson and Platt join Unite Here Local 23 in endorsing Shnider’s council campaign ahead of kick-off event

Rockville, MD – On Saturday, Sept. 16 at 1 PM, Ben Shnider’s campaign for Montgomery County Council will host a canvass kick-off event at the Lincoln Park Community Center in Rockville.

Among those in attendance will be several notable community leaders who are endorsing Shnider’s campaign for progressive change in District 3.

  • Delegate Shane Robinson (D-39), Chair, Montgomery County House Delegation:

“I’ve known Ben for years and have seen him in action. I’m confident he’ll work tirelessly to ensure all members of our community can afford to live and thrive in Montgomery County. I know he also shares my commitment to keeping pesticides out of the Chesapeake watershed and a solid waste management strategy that moves aggressively toward zero-waste. I’m proud to endorse his campaign.”

  • Delegate Andrew Platt (D-17):

“I hear from families that I represent in Rockville and Gaithersburg every day who are struggling to keep up with the skyrocketing cost-of-living. I’m endorsing Ben’s campaign for County Council because I know he’ll be a tireless advocate for these working families.”

  • Bert Bayou, President, Unite Here Local 23:

“Our 1,000+ members in Montgomery County are hungry for leaders who will work with us to ensure we’re treated fairly on the job and paid a living wage. We’re confident Ben will be such a leader and enthusiastically endorse his campaign.”

In addition to these three endorsements, former County Councilmember Valerie Ervin said the following about Ben’s candidacy:

  • Former County Councilmember Valerie Ervin (D-5):

“I’m thrilled Ben is running and can’t wait to join him for his kick-off. Ben’s a talented organizer and a principled progressive who would be a passionate advocate for the underserved on the County Council. It’s time to pass the torch to the next generation of progressive leaders in this county. Ben is such a leader.”

About Ben:

Ben Shnider is a civic activist running to represent District 3 on the Montgomery County Council. He’s running to ensure that all families can afford to live and thrive in our community. Ben has dedicated his life to fighting for progressive values. Prior to running, he worked as an organizer for then-Senator Barack Obama’s historic 2008 Presidential campaign, launched the political arm of the advocacy organization Bend the Arc, and served as Political Director for the pro-diplomacy group J Street. Ben is a former Board Member for the Montgomery County Action Committee for Transit and serves as Vice Chair of Rockville’s Human Rights Commission.

He lives with his wife, Sheri, and their rescue dog, Twist, in Rockville’s King Farm neighborhood. To learn more about Ben, visit www.shniderforcouncil.com

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Will There Be a Deal on MoCo’s Minimum Wage?

By Adam Pagnucco.

The question of whether Montgomery County will have a $15 minimum wage has simmered for months.  After County Executive Ike Leggett vetoed Council Member Marc Elrich’s bill last January, the county commissioned an ill-fated study on the effects of a wage hike that has been discredited.  But Elrich, not waiting for any study, introduced a new bill that was little different from his previous one.  The Executive has now announced his terms for signing it.  We reprint his letter to the council below.

We summarize the differences between the bill and the Executive’s terms below.

Advocates for the bill reacted harshly to the Executive’s letter.  They sent out the following press release today.

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Economists, Community and Labor Groups Slam Executive Leggett Memo Say: “No More Delay Tactics, Working Families Need a Strong $15 Minimum Wage Now”

After Failed Study, Leggett Makes 2nd Attempt to Deny Low-Wage Workers a Living Wage

Rockville, MD- A coalition of economists, community and labor groups today condemned Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett over his memo requiring County Council members to follow a set of criteria that would dramatically weaken Council’s $15 minimum wage legislation. The group also demanded that Leggett suspend his attempts to amend an irredeemable study and sign a strong bill before the end of session. Leggett’s minimum wage “study,” was widely criticized and eventually halted by the Executive himself.

The statement below is attributable to Maryland Working Families, the National Employment Law Project (NELP), 32BJ SEIU, Jews United for Justice, Progressive Maryland and CASA.

“In one of the nation’s wealthiest counties, County Executive Leggett is making a second attempt to avoid raising the wage like so many other economically prosperous cities have done successfully. His youth exemption would keep thousands of working men and women under the age of 20 in poverty, leaving them to continue struggling to support themselves and their families. County residents are counting on the Council and the Executive to resist corporate lobbyists whose self-interests are out-of-sync with the needs of working families. It’s time to stop looking for excuses and raise the minimum wage by passing and signing a clean bill, without delayed implementation or exemptions.”

Research has shown that overwhelmingly, cities that have raised the wage have not experienced job loss and the local economy continues to prosper. Moreover, a wage increase can reduce reliance on public assistance from a safety net that faces extreme cuts from the Trump administration, placing a heavier burden on local taxpayers.

With more than 163,000 members in 11 states, including 18,000 in the D.C. Metropolitan Area, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.

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So will there be a deal?  Under normal circumstances, the answer is yes.  The Executive is recommending a combination of delays and relatively modest adjustments for some categories of workers.  He is not proposing a fundamental overhaul of the bill.  A properly functioning legislative process would smooth out these details, probably by splitting the differences, and result in a 9-0 vote and a signed bill.  That’s how Rockville works most of the time.

But the circumstances are anything but normal.  Three Council Members are running for Executive and five more are running for reelection next year.  The two Council Members who are Executive candidates and are sponsoring the bill must decide if they prefer a signed bill or a campaign issue.  The bill advocates must decide whether they want another upheld veto which would cause further delay and take their chances with a new Executive and council.  These decisions, which are ultimately political in nature, will determine whether there is a deal on minimum wage.

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Friedson Rules Social Media in District 1

By Adam Pagnucco.

Political handicapping is a very subjective exercise.  That said, there are a handful of objective measures that give clues to the state of a race: fundraising, endorsements, surrogates, communications (like number of mailers sent and TV time purchased), and more.  The jury is still out on the importance of social media followers.  But if Facebook followings matter at all, Andrew Friedson is waaaaaay ahead on that measure in the Council District 1 election.

As of Monday, September 11, here are the Facebook followers on each of the District 1 candidates’ campaign pages.

Andrew Friedson: 4,822

Pete Fosselman: 461

Bill Cook: 224

Reggie Oldak: 154

Other candidates: no pages

That’s right, Friedson has almost six times as many followers as his competitors COMBINED.  And they have all been running for months before he got in.

One reason why Facebook followers are discounted by many is that they don’t reflect actual voters in the relevant jurisdiction.  They can come from all over Planet Earth.  So your author asked Friedson to provide a geographic distribution of his Facebook followers.  According to data from his page, roughly two-thirds of Friedson’s followers reported cities of residence.  Of those, 1,490 lived in Maryland, 971 lived in MoCo and 462 lived in the District 1 areas of Bethesda, North Bethesda, Potomac and Kensington.  An additional 700 reported living in D.C., but some of those people could actually live in the Maryland suburbs.

This is an impressive campaign page following for someone who just declared for the race a month ago.  It reflects Friedson’s ability to tap into a number of networks, including his friends and family as a MoCo native; his college network from the University of Maryland (where he was a class President); his professional network from his time as an aide to Comptroller Peter Franchot and Congressional candidate David Trone; and his non-profit networks stemming from his service as a Board Member on the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the MoCo Collaboration Council for Children, Youth and Families.  These are real assets for any candidate for office.  And Friedson can leverage them through social media to raise money, spread his message and build name recognition in a way the other candidates can’t (yet) match.

Reggie Oldak has shown early success in the public campaign finance system but Andrew Friedson is off to a fast start.  Let the rest of the field beware!

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Updated: Preliminary Fundraising Totals in Public Campaign Financing, September 2017

By Adam Pagnucco.

This morning, we posted preliminary fundraising totals for candidates in public financing.  But one of those reports was wrong because of a problem with the State Board of Elections’ processing software.  This post contains updated information.

Shortly after our original post, we received the following communication from Council At-Large candidate Hoan Dang’s campaign.

Hi Adam, this is Jonathon Rowland, campaign manager for Hoan Dang.  Thank you for the article this morning.  I just want to correct the amount stated.  When we filed with the Board of Elections, our report was duplicated because of a glitch in the system giving us double the amount of donations.  We have been in contact with the Board of Elections since Monday to resolve this issue.  The actual amount of donations is 316.

When your author called Rowland for more details, he said that the Dang campaign found the error first and asked the board to correct it.  Board staff acknowledged the mistake and said that they were working with their IT developer to fix it going forward.  No public funds were ever distributed before the Dang campaign caught the mistake.

Including information provided by Dang’s campaign today, here is the updated comparison of the five campaigns who have applied for public financing.

Dang is not the leader in public financing.  George Leventhal, who is running for Executive, is the overall leader in qualifying contributors and receipts.  (Executive candidates get higher match rates than council candidates.)  Among the council candidates, incumbent Hans Riemer leads in qualifying contributors and Bill Conway leads in matching funds.  This should not discount a strong performance by Dang, whose financial numbers are not terribly different from Riemer’s.

Going forward, we hope the state prevents the kinds of mistakes that affected Dang’s campaign.  In the initial glitchy filing, Dang supposedly requested $148,328 in public matching funds.  (Again, the IT glitch was not Dang’s fault.)  In the updated filing, Dang requested $74,144 in public matching funds.  That’s a $74,184 difference.  If Dang had not caught the mistake, could that difference have conceivably been paid out?  There’s no evidence available on that point.  But for the good of public confidence in the county’s public financing system, we hope such a mistake never happens.

On a different issue, we asked what happened to Council Member Marc Elrich’s filing for public matching funds in our original post.  Elrich said he had enough contributors to qualify back in June but has not filed yet.  When asked about it on Leventhal surrogate Saqib Ali’s Facebook page, Elrich said his delay in filing was related to a payment his campaign had made to the county party, which was subsequently ruled to not be in compliance with public financing requirements.  We reprint Elrich’s statement below.

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Preliminary Fundraising Totals in Public Campaign Financing, September 2017

By Adam Pagnucco.

Correction: The numbers for Hoan Dang in this post are inaccurate.  For updated numbers on Dang and a response by Marc Elrich, please visit our updated post.

One of the virtues of public campaign financing is the rapid release of financial reports for participating candidates.  That’s right, folks – for this group of candidates, there is no need to wait until January to see fundraising numbers.  That’s because when they qualify for public matching funds and request them from the state, their financial reports are released almost immediately.  This is terrific for all data junkies like your author as well as inquiring minds among the readers!

Below is a summary for the five candidates who have applied to receive matching funds from the state.  Bear in mind the following characteristics of the data.  First, the number of qualifying contributors means the number of contributors who live in Montgomery County.  Non-residents can contribute up to $150 each but the state will not authorize matching funds for them.  Second, the individual contribution amounts are the basis on which the state determines how much in public matching funds will be released.  Third, the date of cash balance is important because it varies depending on when the applications were sent in.  That is unlike the regular reporting dates on which financial positions are summarized at the same time for all candidates.  And fourth, for those candidates who have only filed once (which includes everyone except George Leventhal), the cash balances do not include public funds from the state.  To estimate the cash positions of those candidates, the cash balance should be added to the public matching funds they requested.

What do we make of this?

1.  Let’s start with the obvious: there are a lot of small checks out there!  While many contributors are probably donating to more than one of these five campaigns, it’s not a stretch to say that close to a thousand people will have contributed by some point in the near future.  It’s hard to make comparisons with the past without exquisitely detailed research to back it up (anyone want to pay us for that?) but our hunch is that this is a larger early donor pool than in prior cycles.

2.  The big story here is Council At-Large candidate Hoan Dang.  At-Large Council Members George Leventhal (who is running for Executive) and Hans Riemer (the only incumbent running for reelection) have a combined 22 years of representing the whole county.  But Dang had more in-county contributors than either one of them!  How does that happen?  Dang ran for Delegate in District 19 in 2010.  He was financially competitive, raising $103,418, but he finished fifth out of six candidates.  There was no reason going into this race to believe that Dang would receive more grassroots financial support than Leventhal or Riemer.  But so far, he has.

3.  Dang is not the only story.  Look at first-time candidate Bill Conway, who collected more private funds than Riemer primarily by having a larger average contribution.  In most elections, challengers struggle to be financially competitive with incumbents.  But the early performances of Conway and Dang relative to Riemer suggest that, at least among publicly-financed candidates, some or all of that gap may be closed.  Our hunch is that a group of at-large candidates will all hit the public matching funds cap of $250,000 and therefore have similar budgets heading into mail season.  The big question will then become how those totals compare to what candidates in the traditional system, like Marilyn Balcombe, Charlie Barkley, Ashwani Jain and Cherri Branson, will raise.

4.  Where is Marc Elrich?  The three-term at-large Council Member and Executive candidate announced that he had qualified for matching funds back in June at roughly the same time that Leventhal and Riemer said the same.  Riemer followed up by filing for matching funds and Leventhal did it twice.  Why hasn’t Elrich filed more than two months after his announcement?  One suspects that the bewildering paperwork requirements of public financing are responsible for the delay, but political types are starting to chatter about it.

That’s all for now.  Candidates, keep those reports coming in so your favorite blog has more material for the readers!

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How Much Will Emily’s List Spend in CD6?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Recently, Emily’s List announced its endorsement for CD6 candidate Aruna Miller, a move seen as significant in that race.  Emily’s List’s Super PAC, Women Vote, has made millions of dollars in independent expenditures (IE) in federal races over the last five cycles.  But how effective are they?

Let’s start in Maryland.  In 2016, Emily’s List invested in three federal candidates: Donna Edwards (U.S. Senate), Joseline Peña-Melnyk (CD 4) and Kathleen Matthews (CD8).  The group had an impact: they accounted for at least a million dollars in TV spending for Edwards and basically assumed the bulk of mail duty for Matthews.  But all three candidates lost, with Edwards finishing second in the primary and Pena Melnyk and Matthews finishing third (despite both having the Washington Post endorsement).  The group spent $3.2 million of IE funds on behalf of the three candidates, including $2.9 million for Edwards.  Edwards’ amount was one of the largest single-race investments made by Emily’s List in the 2016 cycle.  Data for the group’s IE spending in Maryland appears below.

Now let’s examine the group’s IE spending nationwide in 2016.  The group invested in 23 races, winning 7 and losing 15.  In the remaining race (Florida CD9), the group’s original pick lost in the Democratic primary, but they then spent on behalf of the Democratic nominee, who won in the general.  Let’s call that one a draw.  It’s important to note that Emily’s List did not spend in every race in which it endorsed.  Data for the group’s IE spending nationwide in the 2016 cycle appears below.

What can be learned from the results of Emily’s List’s chosen races?  Although their win rate and their experience in Maryland are not impressive, they had some notable successes.  Perhaps their biggest win was helping to knock out freshman Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte (NH) in a razor-tight win for then-Governor Maggie Hassan.  Emily’s List spent $3.2 million against Ayotte.  They also spent $3.6 million to hold Harry Reid’s Senate seat in Nevada, helping to boost Catherine Cortez Masto to victory.  But besides Ayotte, they tried and failed to knock out seven other GOP incumbents, spending $6.9 million on those races.  These were not crazy bets – GOP Senators Pat Toomey (PA) and Richard Burr (NC) were thought to be vulnerable at the time – but they did not work out.

In U.S. House races, Emily’s List spent an average of $218,675 per contest.  The group’s highest single IE in a House race was a combined $881,880 to defeat freshman New York GOP Congressman Lee Zeldin, who beat the group’s candidate by 16 points.  In many House races, the group spent less than $100,000, which was probably not enough to make a difference.  Maryland and New York are the only states in which the group lost three races.  We would not blame Emily’s List if they decided not to throw more money our way!

What does all of this mean for CD6?  The 2018 elections, in which opposition to Donald Trump is likely to play a significant part, may very well contain more opportunities for Emily’s List and other progressive groups to score victories against the GOP than in 2016.  That could draw Emily’s List’s money away from a blue-state primary like CD6 and into districts where GOP incumbents are vulnerable.  The group may also consider David Trone’s nearly unlimited finances, which helped outpoll their chosen candidate in CD8 last year, and conclude that it’s not worth opposing him again.  All of this means the group could do one of two things.  First, it could make a modest investment in CD6, perhaps a couple hundred thousand dollars at most.  That would only make a difference in a close race.  Or second, as it has done in many races over the years, it could invest nothing at all.

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