All posts by David Lublin

Campaign Finance Reports: Council At-Large, January 2018

By Adam Pagnucco.

Now to the swarming Council At-Large race, a fascinating contest with a cast of candidates exceeding the population of several small island nations.  In accordance with our prior post on the Executive candidates, let’s review our methodology.  First, we calculate total raised and total spent across the entire cycle and not just over the course of one report period.  Many candidates, particularly in other races we will discuss, have been campaigning for more than a year and we want to capture that.  Second, we separate self-funding from funds raised from others.  Self-funding includes money from spouses.  Total raised does not include in-kind contributions.  Third, for self-financed candidates, we include public matching fund distributions that have been requested but not deposited in raised money and in cash on hand (which we call adjusted cash balance).  That gives you a better idea of the true financial position of publicly financed campaigns.

And now, on to the financial presentation.  (We hope this graphic can fit on your screen.)  Two candidates – Brandy Brooks and Darwin Romero – have not filed reports at this writing.

Delegate Charles Barkley (D-39) is a big winner here with the largest cash on hand in the race.  He has used his unique perch as the House’s point man on liquor issues to raise large amounts of money, adding to a war chest he has been accumulating for twenty years.  But the last time Barkley had a competitive election, Facebook did not exist and black and white mailers were still in use.  This is a big field full of hungry candidates and Barkley needs to do more than raise alcohol money to win.

Council Member Hans Riemer, the only incumbent in the race, continues to excel.  He has the highest amount raised ($219,103) and a low burn rate of 11%.  Add to that his two terms in office, his experience running countywide, his history of influential endorsements and his campaign skills and he looks like a safe bet to return.

Bill Conway has gone from being Diana Conway’s husband to being perhaps the one non-incumbent candidate that his rivals say is most likely to win.  Conway’s total raise ($215,881) is almost equal to Riemer’s and he actually collected more than Riemer from individuals.  The difference is that he has spent a lot more than Riemer by employing a campaign manager from the early days of his candidacy.  But since that campaign manager is former Raskin field staffer Doug Wallick, that was a good decision.  Conway combines a MoCo-targeted message of education, transportation and jobs with a likable personality and a staggering ability to learn quickly.  So far, so good.

The Council At-Large candidates pose for their Class of ’18 picture.

Next come the others who have qualified for public financing, most of whom have done so recently.  Evan Glass ran strong in District 5 last time, knows the county well and has a lot of fans from his service on more advisory boards and task forces than your author can count.  Chris Wilhelm is a progressive teacher who should appeal to his union, the powerhouse MCEA.  Will Jawando is a skilled candidate who would be in the House of Delegates now if it weren’t for Jamie Raskin’s 2014 slate.  Gabe Albornoz combines several networks – party, Leggett supporters and folks who have known him from his day job at the Recreation Department – and is liked by basically everyone who meets him.  A group of nine candidates – Glass, Wilhelm, Jawando, Albornoz, Hoan Dang, Seth Grimes, Shruti Bhatnagar, Mohammed Siddique and Ashwani Jain – are basically clustered together financially.  Danielle Meitiv will be right there too because she is close to qualifying for matching funds.

And then there are the rest.  Look folks – it’s popular to say that there are more than 30 candidates in this race.  But in all truth, the number of viable candidates is at most half that number.  To everyone who filed an affidavit or is not close to qualifying for matching funds: it’s not gonna happen for you, OK?  You’re the gazelle trying to run with a pack of hungry cheetahs.  You need to show some game or don’t show up at candidate forums asking for your ninety seconds of speaking time along with the folks that are busting their rear ends and getting several hundred residents to contribute.

We have a lot of questions about this data, such as: who is giving money?  Which candidates are drawing support from specific parts of the county?  And why aren’t the female candidates doing better?  (Of the top twelve fundraising candidates, only one – Shruti Bhatnagar – is a woman.)  All of that analysis will have to wait as we are done for now.

Next: the district council candidates.

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Campaign Finance Reports: County Executive, January 2018

By Adam Pagnucco.

Christmas morning is over and your blogger is done opening the presents – errrrr, campaign finance reports.  Now we get to share them with you!  And we will start by breaking down the Montgomery County Executive race.

Before we start playing with the toys, let’s clear away the wrapping and discuss a few data issues.  Our numbers are different from what you will read in other outlets.  That’s because Seventh State readers are special and we are going to give you only the best!  First, we calculate total raised and total spent across the entire cycle and not just over the course of one report period.  Many candidates, particularly in other races we will discuss, have been campaigning for more than a year and we want to capture that.  Second, we separate self-funding from funds raised from others.  Self-funding includes money from spouses.  Total raised does not include in-kind contributions.  Third, for self-financed candidates, we include public matching fund distributions that have been requested but not deposited in raised money and in cash on hand (which we call adjusted cash balance).  That gives you a better idea of the true financial position of publicly financed campaigns.

And now, we reveal the numbers you all have been craving: the first round of fundraising reports for the seven people running for County Executive.

This is exactly the kind of race Council Member Marc Elrich wants.  He is up against five other candidates, only one of whom has run countywide before, who are nothing like him and cannot steal votes from his progressive and anti-development base.  Better yet, because of public financing, he has the resources to be financially competitive.  (The thought of Elrich with money is almost as strange as the sight of Elrich wearing a suit and tie.)  Elrich has been building a grass roots base for thirty years and he will be able to combine it with substantial labor, progressive and environmental support.  This election is starting to turn into Elrich and a competition to become the non-Elrich alternative.

Council Member Roger Berliner has to feel good about his report.  He leads the field in total raised for the cycle and cash on hand, and also has the lowest burn rate.  Berliner can now start making the case to those who are not inclined to support Elrich that he is the most viable alternative to Elrich.  Doing that is essential for his path to victory.  (Disclosure: your author is a publicly-listed supporter of Berliner and has done work for him in the past.)

Businessman David Blair is sometimes compared to fellow businessman David Trone, but he is not using a Trone-like strategy.  When Trone entered the CD8 race last year, he staffed up rapidly and began spending millions on television within weeks.  Accordingly, some observers expected Blair to write himself a million dollar check, putting opponents on notice and perhaps intimidating one or two of them to withdraw.  But while Trone plays to win, Blair looks like he’s playing around.  He gave himself just enough money ($300,000) to equal the formerly penniless Elrich in cash on hand and trail Berliner.  As for private sector fundraising, Berliner has raked in almost three times as much as Blair.  Blair needs to sharpen his message, learn more about the county and show a hunger to win.

Council Member George Leventhal is plenty hungry.  He might be the hardest-working candidate in the race and he clearly believes he’s the best person for the job.  But Leventhal is killing his campaign with his sky-high burn rate (46%), which is more than double the burn rates of Elrich (19%) and Berliner (18%).  Like Berliner, Leventhal needs to show to non-Elrich folks that he is the most viable alternative to Elrich.  To do that, he needs to tighten up his spending and get some big endorsements – sooner rather than later.

Bill Frick, you know we love you.  We admire your heroism on the liquor monopoly and we appreciate all the great fodder you have given us over the years.  But you showed a cash balance of $150,753 – less than half what Berliner, Elrich and Blair reported.  Why are you doing this, Bill?  We want many more years of you in public office, so please take our advice: stay in the House and run to succeed Brian Frosh as Attorney General when the time comes.  We will help you do it!  We will even write dozens of blog posts just like this one.

Former Planning Department staffer and Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow is an appealing, substantive and competent candidate with fans in both the business and smart growth communities.  The fact that she is the only female candidate running against five men in a Democratic primary electorate that is almost 60% female is a big plus.  Her numbers are not in yet, but she told Bethesda Magazine that she had raised $39,800 from small contributions in the public financing system.  If that’s true, it means she is on pace to qualify for public matching funds much faster than either Elrich or Leventhal did.  Still, we don’t understand why she entered public financing.  It takes a long time to raise money that way and it prevents her from tapping into what could be substantial business support.  Even if she qualifies for matching funds, she could very well trail all the other Democrats in fundraising except maybe Frick.

Republican Robin Ficker appears roughly halfway to qualifying for public matching funds.  That means the county’s most infamous anti-tax activist could wind up campaigning on the public dole.  And all of you MoCo residents will be paying for that!

Next up: the council at-large candidates.

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SEIU Local 32BJ Endorses Ben Shnider

By Adam Pagnucco.

SEIU Local 32BJ, the mammoth building services union that is one of the biggest and most powerful locals in SEIU, has endorsed insurgent candidate Ben Shnider in his challenge to District 3 Council Member Sidney Katz.  Shnider has been working hard to topple Katz from the left but it’s an uphill challenge.  An endorsement of this kind grants legitimacy to Shnider and will help him draw more progressive support.  We will have a lot more to say about this race, but for now, we reprint the union’s press release below.

*****

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, January 17, 2018

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Julie Karant: jkarant@seiu32bj.org

32BJ SEIU ENDORSES BEN SHNIDER’S BID TO UNSEAT MONTGOMERY COUNTY COUNCIL INCUMBENT, SIDNEY KATZ

Shnider’s Unwavering Support for Working Families Sharply Contrasts Katz’s Record of Opposing the $15 Minimum Wage

Washington, D.C. – Janitors and security officers from 32BJ of the Service Employees International (SEIU), today announced their endorsement of Ben Shnider’s campaign to replace Montgomery County Council District 3 incumbent, Sidney Katz.

“Sidney Katz originally voted against the $15 minimum wage which delayed the effort to raise the wages for struggling workers,” said 32BJ SEIU Vice President Jaime Contreras. “Montgomery County deserves a reliable champion like Ben Shnider who will fight for working families not industry lobbyists.”

32BJ members will knock on doors and speak out within their communities towards the primary election scheduled for June 26th.

“I’m humbled and honored to have the backing of the incredible members of 32BJ. I’m running to ensure that every resident of Montgomery County can afford to live and thrive in this community that I love. I’m proud of the grassroots coalition we’re assembling to bring new leadership to District 3. I’ll work tirelessly on the County Council to provide the members of 32BJ — and all county residents — with the bold, progressive leadership they deserve,” said Shnider.

32BJ members are also inspired by Shnider’s leadership on immigrant rights and racial justice during his tenure with Bend the Arc.

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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The Floreen Path to At-Large Success

By Adam Pagnucco.

Montgomery County’s At-Large County Council race may be the hardest contest in the county to predict.  That’s because it doesn’t necessarily involve candidates running against each other directly.  It operates more like a political market in which the four candidates who are able to sell their product to the most people win.  That’s why candidates who are completely different from each other – who are selling entirely different things – often finish in the top four together.  Viewed in this way, there are multiple paths to victory available in every at-large election.  One path worth examining for this year is the one taken by four-term incumbent Nancy Floreen.

Floreen, a former Planning Board Member and Mayor of Garrett Park, was first elected as part of Doug Duncan’s End Gridlock slate in 2002.  With four terms in office, she is by far the longest-serving female at-large Council Member since the council’s current structure was established in 1990.  She has enjoyed strong support from the business and real estate communities for her entire tenure in office and has also drawn some labor and progressive backing.  One union that has never endorsed her is MCEA – indeed, she is the only council candidate who has been elected four straight times without the Apple Ballot since MCEA began using it in the 1990s.  Floreen is not known for initiating progressive bills, but she has often voted for them, including the 2008 prevailing wage law, the 2013 and 2017 minimum wage hikes, the 2014 public campaign financing law and the 2015 paid sick leave law.  Despite her reputation for business-friendly positions, Floreen passed three major tax hikes during her two years as Council President and voted for others.  Progressives don’t give her enough credit for her willingness to support new revenue for government.  And so it’s fair to say that she has balanced between the left and the center during her four terms in office.

A Floreen mailer from her first campaign in 2002.  Note how she shows support from two very different County Executives.

The electoral trajectory of Council Member Marc Elrich, who went from losing four straight council races to finishing first at-large two cycles in a row, is well known.  Several candidates have tried to emulate his success over the years but none have matched it.  Floreen’s success is less recognized but still substantial.  Since 2002, she has finished third, fourth, third and second in the Democratic primaries in that order.  Since her first election, she has cut the vote gap between herself and the first-place finisher by more than half.  If she were not covered by term limits and chose to run for reelection, she would be the odds-on favorite to finish first in the next at-large race with Elrich running for Executive.

Below are Floreen’s ranks of finish in the 2006, 2010 and 2014 primaries by state legislative and council district.  Also displayed is her percentage of the vote in 2014.  She enjoyed significant gains in 2014, especially in Upcounty districts where she finished first or second.

Below is the same information displayed by city and town.  In 2014, Floreen became the top vote-getter in most Upcounty areas including Brookeville, Clarksburg, Damascus, Darnestown, Germantown, Laytonsville and Montgomery Village as well as Burtonsville, Gaithersburg, Sandy Spring and Wheaton.  Her vote percentages ranged from 18-22% with the exceptions of Dickerson, Downtown Silver Spring and Takoma Park, areas with local favorites in the race.

Floreen combines schools and jobs in a 2014 mailer.

So what has Floreen been selling in the at-large political market?  She has run as a center-left, business-backed candidate emphasizing economic growth, job creation, schools and social liberalism.  She has also been aided by the fact that in three of her four terms, she was the only female at-large incumbent.  That combination allowed her to pick up lots of votes in relatively moderate Upcounty and Midcounty areas as well as from people who felt the council should have at least one woman who represented the whole county.  Not only has that been a successful strategy, it has been increasingly successful over time.  And it’s not just due to incumbency – during Floreen’s tenure in office, two of her at-large colleagues were defeated and another (George Leventhal) slid from finishing first in 2006 to fourth in the next two cycles.  By 2014, enough voters wanted to buy Floreen’s product that they elevated her above everyone else save Elrich.

There are echoes of Elrich all over the evolving at-large race.  Several candidates are advocating his positions in favor of raising the minimum wage, limiting the influence of corporate money, protecting renters and working to reduce income inequality.  But Floreen’s path to at-large success is a proven winner too.  Will anyone take it?

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MoCo After Discovery

By Adam Pagnucco.

Word of Discovery Communications’ exit from Silver Spring has exploded like a bomb in local politics, prompting attacks by the state Democrats on Governor Larry Hogan and two outsider County Executive candidates on the county government.  But the answer to the real question is not to be found in political soundbites: where does MoCo go from here?

Let’s start by acknowledging the unusual nature of Discovery.  The only reason the company was in MoCo to begin with is that its founder, John Hendricks, moved here in his 20s and started it at age 30.  If Hendricks had instead lived in, say, Philadelphia, the company would have been started there.  Discovery was largely a stand-alone organization that was not surrounded by peers.  When Hendricks retired as Chairman three years ago, it was probably inevitable that the company was going to move with media-packed New York City as a prime option.  Accordingly, no one your author knows who has been associated with Discovery is surprised at its exit.  While the company was important to Silver Spring, the departure of a firm like United Therapeutics, a key player in the local bio-tech industry, would have been more troublesome because of the county’s long-time efforts to build up that sector.

That said, Discovery will leave a big hole in Downtown Silver Spring.  Its 1,300 employees are hugely important to Silver Spring’s lunch scene and happy hour crowds.  (Anyone who sees the sheer number of people walking through the Georgia Avenue crosswalk near the building to access Ellsworth Place can appreciate this.)  The building itself was constructed to house one tenant.  Subdividing it for multiple tenants could be costly and challenging, thereby complicating its reuse.  Discovery is looking to sell it but it may not be occupied for a while.  Finally, the viability of Silver Spring as an employment center may be questioned by developers and tenants alike.  Will the central business district continue to be a jobs base or will new development be overwhelmingly residential, thereby cementing Silver Spring as a bedroom community for D.C.?  And could that worry be applied to most of the rest of the county?  It’s telling that the two most prominent new office buildings in the pipeline, the Park and Planning headquarters in Wheaton and the new Marriott headquarters in Downtown Bethesda, are supported by public money.

Aside from the usual political elbow-throwing, the reaction of the county has focused on the financial incentive it offered to Discovery to stay.  County Executive Ike Leggett said in a statement, “The County and State made a substantial proposal designed to accommodate Discovery’s challenges. Together, we were ready to provide considerable incentives to retain their presence in the County.”  Bethesda Magazine quoted Leggett as saying, “The incentive package was one of the largest offered to a company during his time in office, although he did not reveal specific details about the package Tuesday.”  We hear it was in the same ballpark as the $22 million offered by the county to retain Marriott with more money coming from the state.  Notably, New York State offered no incentives to attract Discovery.

The county’s reliance on corporate welfare for economic development is one of the great untold local stories of the last few years.  Business incentives, usually contained in grants convertible to loans when job targets go unmet, are disbursed through the county’s Economic Development Fund (EDF).  They are approved in secret under an exemption from the state’s Open Meetings Act.  Residents do not learn of the amounts spent or the recipients’ identities until after the agreements are signed.  Summary details are available only in annual EDF reports released during the County Council’s budget process.  Aggregations of those reports show that the county has approved 49 incentives totaling $88.3 million between 2012 and February 2017, of which 35 incentives worth $79.7 million were used for retention.  That’s right, folks – over the last five years, the county agreed to pay almost $80 million to existing employers to stay.  Six of those incentives consist of annual disbursements payable over periods ranging from six to fifteen years, thereby continually weighing on the tax base.  For the sake of comparison, the county is spending $80 million for libraries and recreation combined this fiscal year.  Just this month, the County Executive has proposed a mid-year savings plan of $60 million, including a $25 million cut for MCPS, while corporate welfare remains untouched.

Since 2012, MoCo’s corporate welfare has skyrocketed.

Is this really working?

MoCo should be an economic development leader.  We have tremendous advantages, including a large federal presence, a highly educated workforce, good schools, lots of investment in transportation projects (including the Purple Line), substantial wealth in some of our neighborhoods, low crime and virtually no public corruption.  Few localities in the nation can say they have all of these things.  But instead of being a growth leader in the Washington area, the county’s total employment growth of 3% between 2001 and 2016 ranked 20th of 24 Washington-area jurisdictions measured by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  MoCo’s jobs base and its real per capita personal income have not recovered from the Great Recession.  And now our economic problems have contributed to a $120 million budget shortfall.  We’re not leaders, we’re laggards.  We must do better.

Discovery is headed out the door, but if we want to create the next generation of Discoveries, we are going to need a more creative and disciplined economic development strategy than relying on bribes to retain big employers.  We are going to have to save tax hikes for desperate times and not pass them simply because we’d like to spend money.  We are going to have to invest more in transportation and education and pay for it by restraining growth in the rest of the budget.  We are going to have to do things like ending the liquor monopoly, directing more of our county reserves into community banks where they can finance local job creation, cutting impact taxes near Metro stations to encourage transit-oriented development and raising them elsewhere to pay for it, and getting rid of redundant bureaucracy.  (Fun fact: we are the only local jurisdiction that requires two different independent agencies to sign off on every record plat, which drives developers banana-cakes.)  And after passing numerous employment laws, we should give employers time to adapt to them rather than immediately introduce more mandates.  If we implement this kind of agenda, maybe we could attract and retain businesses without handing out tens of millions of dollars in corporate welfare.

Economic development is tough.  It’s about more than one big employer.  It takes time.  It takes multiple components.  Most of all, it takes discipline.  If our next generation of elected leaders learns these lessons from Discovery’s departure, we will come back stronger than ever.  If not, Discovery won’t be the last high-profile employer to say adiós.

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Increasing Access to Higher Education in Montgomery County: An Economic Imperative

By Michael Knapp, Chair, Montgomery College Board of Trustees.

Since the presidential campaigns of 2016, candidates for numerous state and local offices have identified providing free access to college as a campaign issue that polls well, primarily because of high cost of college.  Unfortunately there have been very few candidates who have actually thought through the practical elements of what this means: What do you pay for – tuition only? Who is eligible? What schools are included? And most important, how is it paid for?  As the Maryland General Assembly goes into session this week and we begin an historic election year in Montgomery County, we wanted to raise this important issue and provide some perspective on how it can be considered.

At Montgomery College, providing affordable access isn’t a poll-tested tagline, it’s an economic imperative without which our community and residents won’t grow to meet the needs of the future.  We know that without a skilled workforce our employers can’t grow and without clear career pathways into the workforce most residents won’t be able to move into jobs that provide a wage that will allow them to live in our community.  As a result, we take this discussion very seriously and have given a great deal of thought about how to make increasing access a reality for thousands of members of our community.

With an issue this important, there must be a framework of key principles to form a foundation on which to build such a plan. We see those as the following.

  • Any program will require significant public and private investment, and there must be a clearly defined return on investment that includes providing clear pathways for students into the workforce and a pipeline of skilled workers for local employers.
  • Increasing access to college for students often requires considering more than just free or reduced tuition — it may mean providing assistance with transportation, childcare, food, and housing.
  • Free isn’t free — all students must be willing to provide a measurable contribution to their own success in return for increased access.
  • The path to higher education and the resources needed must be clear and transparent so that all who are interested can readily take advantage.
  • The program must be sustainable — there must an identified and consistent source of revenue to make this program reality each year.
  • Success must be defined and the outcomes measured.

We know that at least 65 percent of all jobs require an education beyond high school and that, in a community like Montgomery County with such a high cost of living; it is an imperative to ensure that residents have ready access to the skills needed by local employers.  In addition, the goal set by the College and Career Readiness and College Completion Act of 2013 is that 55 percent of adults aged 25 to 64 will hold an at least an associate’s degree by 2025, and this degree must be able to assist residents in obtaining skills employers need.  Yet, even with the vital importance of this type of program it is also critical that this not be just another debt that will be borne by the students or the community to pay later—there must be a real and sustainable funding source.  We have explored models throughout the nation and are developing a series of recommendations to present for consideration with our civic, political, and business leadership.  The important thing to note is that there are innovative strategies that we can use to implement this program beyond just raising taxes on our residents.

Montgomery County’s economic and wage growth has slowed, and we are on the verge of an election season that will have an unprecedented number of candidates seeking local and state elected office.  Now is the time to have a real conversation about how to provide increased access to higher education for the benefit of our community.  Our ability to get this done will have a lasting impact on the lives of our residents and our local economy — the leadership of Montgomery College is committed to working with all interested parties in making this critical concept a reality, provided that they are committed to a real dialogue that addresses the principles we’ve outlined and not just looking for an easy sound bite.

Michael Knapp served on the Montgomery County Council from 2002 through 2010.

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The Worst Part of Campaigning

By Adam Pagnucco.

What’s the worst part of campaigning for office?  Well, there is a lot of work, but most of it is not inherently awful.  You have to show up at a bunch of events, but that’s OK if you like bad food and flat soda.  You have to talk to a bunch of self-important stuffed-shirts, but you eventually learn which ones have something to contribute and which ones should be avoided.  (Hint: the ones who talk the most know the least.)  Door knocking takes time, but you get to meet real live regular voters (and their vicious guard dogs).  Here’s a bonus: 2002 District 18 House candidate Sam Statland once lost 45 pounds from door knocking.  Fundraising bites, but that’s only the second-worst part of campaigning.  The worst part is:

Filling out all the [expletive deleted] questionnaires!

This is a part of campaigning that no one on the outside ever sees.  MoCo candidates are absolutely deluged with questionnaires from anyone and everyone.  OK, new candidates, we know that you have not received many yet.  But just wait!  In the 2014 cycle, roughly fifty of them went out.  There are sure to be more this time.

Now we are not questioning the legitimacy of questionnaires in general.  Citizens and organizations have a right to know what candidates think and what they will do if they get elected.  Endorsing organizations in particular should quiz candidates before supporting any of them.  But many of these questionnaires are sent by groups with little or no membership, no distribution and no planned electoral activity of any kind.  If you don’t distribute the completed questionnaires to anyone and will undertake no electoral activity as a result of what they say, why should you expect candidates to fill them out?

The best questionnaires are concise, focused and get straight to the point.  For example, MCEA, SEIU and the Sierra Club usually ask fifteen questions or less (sometimes with sub-questions) that relate directly to their core interests.  They do not ask about issues that are extraneous to their members.  All three are important organizations whose endorsements carry weight.  All candidates will want to fill these out.

And then there are the other ones.  As a general rule, the weaker and the less relevant the group, the longer and more tedious its questionnaire will be.  Each of them takes several hours to complete, time that would be better spent getting chased by vicious guard dogs.  See that questionnaire with fifty questions on it?  We guarantee that it will have zero impact on the election.  Truly influential groups don’t care about fifty different things.  They care about a few things that are really important to them because that’s what they are working on.  Last time, one brand-new group sent out a list of 33 questions ranging from the best way to cook an omelet to the candidate’s favorite Pokemon character.  (OK, maybe your author is exaggerating a little.)  It took a whole afternoon to fill out.  That group did nothing during the election and has never been heard from again!

Here’s how crazy this can get.  Suppose you really hate Candidate X and want to mess with him.  Tell him you represent a group called MoCo Residents United that has a hundred thousand dues-paying members.  Then send him a questionnaire with 120 questions, each one with sub-questions a, b and c.  X will go totally banana cakes.  He will yell at his staff, “Who are these guys?  I’ve never heard of them.  How dare they send in 120 questions!”  The staff will all agree, saying the group doesn’t exist and should be ignored.  But then X will think of Candidates Y and Z, who are his bitter enemies and are running against him.  What happens if Y and Z respond but X does not?

You know the end to this story.  X will fill out that questionnaire.  Every single time!

So for the love of Mike, if you are contemplating sending out a questionnaire, please observe the following rules.  First, if you really don’t care about something, don’t ask about it.  Don’t waste your time – and the candidate’s.  Second, don’t ask the same question three different ways.  Ask it once and only once.  Third, fill out your own questionnaire yourself before sending it out.  Put yourself in the candidate’s shoes.  If you find it intolerable to complete it, trim it. Fourth, be aware that if you ask fifty different questions, the answers to each one will be shorter and less informative than if you ask ten.  That’s because candidates and their staff only have so much time in the day.  In this case, less is more!  And finally, make your best effort to distribute the completed questionnaires far and wide to your members.  If you are going to ask candidates to invest the time and effort to fill them out, at least make sure that their hard work is seen by as many voters as possible.

And if you don’t follow the above rules, you just want to make people miserable.  In that case, you should send your questionnaire only to Robin Ficker!

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Greenberger Compares County Council to Washington Redskins

By Adam Pagnucco.

In the most brutal campaign attack of the cycle, former County Council spokesman and current at-large council candidate Neil Greenberger is comparing the council to the Washington Redskins.  Under current owner Dan Snyder, perhaps the most despised franchise owner in pro sports, the team has won just two playoff games in the last nineteen seasons.  They are commonly regarded as the third-most dysfunctional institution in the Washington region after the White House and Congress.  We don’t agree with Greenberger that the council is that bad, but as a Washington Post reporter who covered the Skins in their glory years, Greenberger’s take sure is amusing!  We reprint his blast email below.

From Neil Greenberger

Candidate

Montgomery County Council At-large

Football and Montgomery County Politics

Jan. 10 and Jan. 26

26 years and $26

Why this is all about change – And making a difference

On Jan. 26, 1992, Washington’s professional football team won its last Super Bowl. In the 26 years since, not a lot of good things have happened to that organization. It often doesn’t listen or care what its fans think.

On Jan. 10, 2018, the first campaign financial reporting period will end for candidates seeking Montgomery County political offices. While candidates can accept contributions beyond the first reporting date, with at least 30 people running for the four available at-large seats on the Montgomery County Council, those that collect donations of support early in the campaign will prove to be the strongest contenders for this Super Bowl of elections.

So, what do these two things have in common?

In both Washington professional football and on the Montgomery County Council, there is a great need for better direction, better efficiency, more listening to what the “experts” regard as important and real plans for the future. In one of these cases, you can help: by supporting my candidacy for an at-large seat on the County Council and backing a progressive agenda that helps those in need and improves services while spending money efficiently and not raising property taxes over the next four years.

Those directing Washington’s professional football team do not seem to have a game plan for long-term success. My campaign is based on doing the right things that will make Montgomery County a better place to live for our future generations.

Those directing Washington’s professional football team have some very smart people offering advice on how to improve its situation—but the team leaders have opted to ignore that advice. The result has been years of failure. Over the past year, I have been meeting people throughout Montgomery County and listening to what they want to improve in the County, their neighborhoods and for the long-term future of their children.

Those directing Washington’s professional football team do not seem to have a playlist for the future. In listening to Montgomery residents, I know the priorities for our county must be a public school system that strives to get better for students at all schools around the county—and moves ahead with big and innovative steps, rather than the goal of holding the status quo. We want development that plans for realistic school capacity needs, roads to support the development and parking spaces so all people in the county can enjoy these new projects. And we want things done efficiently, without the spiraling waste of tax dollars that has been the hallmark of our county for the past decade.

Those directing Washington’s professional football team keep going to the same well when it needs more money: raising ticket prices, concession prices and parking prices—without regard to the burden it puts on its supporters. As a former Washington Post reporter and longtime County employee, I know where to find the waste in County government. And by using the county law (approved by voters) that allows one Councilmember to block an increase in property taxes, I will GUARANTEE that property taxes will not increase above the County Charter Limit (basically the annual cost of living) for the next four years.

How can you help?

You may not be able to change the future of Washington’s football team. But you can make a difference in the future of Montgomery County.

To commemorate Washington’s 26th anniversary without a Super Bowl since 1992, I am hoping you will contribute $26 to my campaign for the County Council before January 10, 2018. (Any individual can contribute up to $150, but right now, $26 will be great). It will lead to the changes you tell me you want in Montgomery County. And in this case, you get to call the plays.

Thanks for helping!

Neil

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Public Financing Update: January 2, 2018

By Adam Pagnucco.

Happy New Year, folks!  After a relatively quiet period in the fall, December saw a number of applications for public matching funds from county candidates participating in public financing.  One of the many positive things about public financing is that when candidates apply for matching funds, they have to file full reports with the State Board of Elections.  That gives data junkies like your author – and Seventh State readers!  – lots of updated data without waiting for the relatively few regular campaign finance reports in the state’s schedule.  The next time all campaign finance reports are due, both from public and traditional accounts, is on January 17.

The candidates below have met the thresholds for matching funds and have applied for those funds from the state.

A few notes.  The column titled “Non-Qualifying Contributions and Loans” refers to loans from candidates and their spouses (up to $12,000 is allowed) and out-of-county contributions, which are allowed but not matched.  The column titled “Adjusted Cash Balance” includes the cash balance in the last report plus the most recent matching funds distribution requested but not yet received.  It is the closest we can approximate the financial position of each campaign at the time they filed their last report.  The column titled “Burn Rate” is the percentage of funds raised that has already been spent.  Generally speaking, candidates should strive to keep their burn rates low early on to save money for mail season.  Mohammad Siddique’s totals are preliminary as there are a few issues in his report that will have to be resolved with the Board of Elections.  And District 4 Council Member Nancy Navarro applied for $35,275 in matching funds but cannot receive them unless she gets an opponent.

Below is the number of days each candidate took to qualify for matching funds.  Let’s remember that the thresholds are different: 500 in-county contributors with $40,000 for Executive candidates, 250 in-county contributors with $20,000 for at-large council candidates and 125 in-county contributors with $10,000 for district council candidates.

So what does it all mean?  Here are a few thoughts.

County Executive Race

Council Members Marc Elrich and George Leventhal, who are using public financing and running for Executive, have been active in county politics for a long time.  Elrich first joined the Takoma Park City Council in 1987 and has been on the county ballot in every election since.  He has been an elected official for thirty years.  Leventhal worked for U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski and was the Chair of the county Democrats in the 1990s.  He played a key role in defeating a group of Republican Delegates in District 39 in the 1998 election.  Both of these fellows have built up large networks of supporters over many years and they have done well in public financing, raising similar amounts of money from similar numbers of people.

The difference between them is burn rate.  Leventhal is spending much more money than Elrich early, with some of it going to a three-person staff.  He had better hope this early spending is worth it because if this trend keeps up, Elrich could have almost twice as much money as Leventhal available for mailers in May and June.

At-Large Council Race

One of Council Member Hans Riemer’s advantages as the only incumbent in this race is the ability to raise money, and he has put it to good use in public financing.  Riemer leads in number of contributors and total raised.  He has also maintained a low burn rate.  This is Riemer’s fourth straight county campaign and he knows what he’s doing at election time.  His biggest problem is that his name will be buried near the end of a VERY long ballot.

The five non-incumbents who have qualified for matching funds have raised similar amounts of money so far.  As a group, they are not far behind Riemer.  The one who stands out here is Bill Conway.  Hoan Dang, Evan Glass, Chris Wilhelm and Mohammad Siddique all filed in December while Conway last filed in September.  Our bet is that when Conway files next month, he will show four months of additional fundraising that will put him close to Riemer’s total.

That said, the five non-incumbent qualifiers have so far separated themselves from the rest of the field.  Gabe Albornoz and Danielle Meitiv have said they have qualified but have not filed for matching funds with the state.  No other candidates have claimed to qualify.  Raising money in public financing takes a long time and raising a competitive amount (at least $250,000) takes a REALLY long time.  Those at-large candidates who do not qualify soon risk appearing non-viable.

Public Matching Funds Will Be Nowhere Close to $11 Million

The county has so far set aside $11 million to cover the cost of public matching funds.  That appears to be waaaaaay too much with only $1.4 million so far disbursed.  Our guess is that the ultimate total will be less than half what was allocated and will be even lower in the next election cycle with fewer seats open.

Incumbents Have Nothing to Fear From Public Financing

Five council incumbents are using public financing.  All five have qualified for matching funds and have done so fairly easily.  We will see how the challengers stack up, particularly in the at-large race, but so far the only at-large incumbent (Hans Riemer) is leading.  As we predicted last April, public financing is good for incumbents because it allows them to leverage their networks into lots of small individual contributions.  State legislators and other County Councils should take heed.

That’s it for now, folks.  Come back in a couple weeks when all reports, including those from traditional accounts, are due and we’ll put it all together for you!

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