Category Archives: campaign finance

School Board Candidates Need Public Financing

By Adam Pagnucco.

This week, MoCo’s school board candidates reported their campaign finances through August 18. The results for the cycle are below. Here’s a three-word summary: they’re all broke.

Let’s put this in perspective. In 2018, seven candidates for county council at-large raised $200,000 or more to communicate with a Democratic primary electorate which ultimately totaled 134,212 voters. That means they had $1.50 or more per voter.

This year, 272,697 people of all parties voted in the MoCo primary. That was the universe of folks with whom school board candidates had to communicate. But unlike council at-large candidates, school board candidates who win primaries also have competitive general elections. In 2016 (the last presidential year), 483,429 people voted in MoCo’s general election. This year, it will be well over 500,000 voters. If the leading school board fundraiser, at-large candidate Sunil Dasgupta, is able to raise $50,000 this cycle – a very big if! – he would effectively have 6 cents per voter counting both the primary and the general.

It’s basically impossible to run an effective campaign with that little money available for that many voters.

School board races take a back seat to gubernatorial, state legislative and county races in mid-term years, to presidential races in presidential years and to congressional races in all years. The result is that candidates can’t run real races and the outcomes are driven by factors like incumbency, the Apple Ballot and the Washington Post endorsement. Holders of all three of those advantages win MoCo school board races more than 90% of the time. Hardly anyone knows these candidates at election time but the ones who win go on to oversee a $2.8 billion school system.

Public financing has pluses and minuses and we learned a lot about it in 2018. But let’s be clear. Because of the presence of other more attention-getting (and much better funded) races on the ballot, school board candidates will probably never be able to raise adequate money in the traditional system, particularly since all of them (even the district members) are elected at large. Without change, they will continue to be heavily reliant on influential endorsements and even the alphabet(!) to get elected.

And so, if we are going to have public financing for county executive and county council elections, we should definitely have it available for school board.

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Where Are They Getting Their Money?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Recently, I posted totals raised and spent by candidates for school board in the primary. Today, let’s look at the geography of contributions in the at-large race.

The at-large race, easily the most contentious MoCo school board contest since the early 1980s, has many overtones of race and class owing to its discussion of school boundaries. In MoCo, race and class are synonymous with geography. The county has huge differences in race, language and economics between its various subdivisions. Indeed, most of the county’s wealth is concentrated in a handful of zip codes. The county has noticeable racial segregation in its schools as well as significant inequity between them.

I broke down the geography for individual contributions to five candidates – Stephen Austin, Sunil Dasgupta, Jay Guan, Lynne Harris and Dalbin Osorio. (Pavel Sukhobok, the 4th-leading fundraiser, only has 7 contributors other than himself.) For each candidate, I tabulated the number of contributors and total contributed by individuals for each major local area in the county. These figures exclude self-funding, PACs, businesses and unions.

Two areas require definitions. The first is the Downcounty Crescent, the areas in and around the Beltway that play a disproportionate part in Democratic primary voting. The Crescent includes Bethesda, Cabin John, Glen Echo, Chevy Chase, Kensington, Takoma Park and the Silver Spring zip codes of 20901 and 20910. This area trends left – with some places going far left – and is largely responsible for sending Jamie Raskin to Congress. The second is Upcounty, which I define as including Ashton, Barnesville, Boyds, Brookeville, Clarksburg, Damascus, Dickerson, Gaithersburg, Germantown, Laytonsville, Montgomery Village, Olney, Poolesville, Sandy Spring and Spencerville. This area contains a greater proportion of moderate Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters than other parts of the county.

Now let’s look at the candidates.

Stephen Austin

Almost two-thirds of Austin’s contributors and 75% of his individual funding comes from Bethesda, Potomac and North Potomac. These areas are home to some of the highest-performing high school clusters in the county. Austin is a leading critic of MCPS’s recent school boundary analysis. It makes sense that parents in these areas would be skeptical of having their kids sent to other schools.

Sunil Dasgupta

Silver Spring, the county’s largest geographic unit, accounts for 28% of Dasgupta’s contributors and 31% of his individual fundraising. The rest of his contributions are well dispersed.

Jay Guan

The vast majority of Guan’s contributors are east Asian so it makes sense that his geography would match the most heavily Asian high school clusters in the county (like Wootton, Churchill, Richard Montgomery and Clarksburg). Guan lives in Clarksburg so it’s no surprise that he is the runaway fundraising leader there.

Lynne Harris

Silver Spring is Harris’s biggest source of campaign funds – by far.

Dalbin Osorio

A huge majority of Osorio’s fundraising is coming from outside the county, with most of that coming from out of state.

Here is a summary of fundraising from four key areas in this race.

And so the contribution geography reveals the appeal of each of these candidates, at least in terms of fundraising. Austin has raised the most from Bethesda and has split Potomac with Guan. Guan has raised the most from east Asians, Rockville and Upcounty. Silver Spring and Takoma Park are going with Dasgupta and (to a lesser extent) Harris, although Dasgupta has the most geographic diversity of any candidate. Osorio needs to find more contributors who live in MoCo.

It’s a shame that the State Board of Elections won’t be releasing precinct-level data in the primary because then we could see if votes follow money. Let’s hope that we can get precinct results in the general election.

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Campaign Finance Reports, School Board Primary

By Adam Pagnucco.

The second round of campaign finance reports covering contributions and expenditures in the school board race were due yesterday. They cover campaign activity through May 17 and are the last reports to be released before the June 2 primary. The table below presents cumulative totals combining the first and second reports for all candidates. Those with data marked “NA” filed affidavits stating that their campaigns did not collect or spend more than $1,000 for the reporting period.

In the at-large race, Jay Guan is the leader with $27,443 raised, followed by Sunil Dasgupta ($22,760) and Stephen Austin ($20,730). Lynne Harris, who was endorsed by the Washington Post, ranks 6th with $7,456 raised. The district races were quiet.

These are small amounts of money compared to county executive, county council and state legislative races, but Guan, Dasgupta and Austin have all done pretty well for school board candidates. Here is how their totals compare to other (relatively) well-financed school board candidacies in the primary over the last decade.

So far, the single largest expenditure by any candidate in the race is Guan’s mailing of a postcard in early May, which cost $13,861. However, the Maryland State Education Association, which has endorsed Dasgupta, sent out a glossy mailer on his behalf shortly afterwards. That mailer’s cost is not available from campaign finance records but almost certainly exceeds the cost of Guan’s mailer.

Facebook’s political ad tracker shows that Dasgupta has spent more money on Facebook ads than the rest of the at-large field combined.

So far, the most expensive Facebook ad in the race has been this one by Dasgupta which promoted some of his endorsements.

The second most expensive Facebook ad was this one by Austin attacking Harris. Austin may be calculating that if he can knock out Harris, he will enter an insider vs outsider general election against Dasgupta.

Combining his own spending with the independent expenditures of the teachers union, Dasgupta may be running the most vigorous campaign overall. Harris’s money problems are impeding her ability to publicize the Post endorsement, which should worry her supporters. Austin has done well to keep pace financially with Dasgupta despite the latter’s endorsement by multiple unions and numerous elected officials. The big question is what Austin plans to do with his $13,048 cash balance. If he had spent it on Facebook ads, he would easily have outspent Dasgupta. Either he is saving it for a last push or he is banking some money for the general election.

Following is a list of the most prominent contributors to Austin, Dasgupta, Guan and Harris.

Stephen Austin
Coalition for Better Montgomery PAC: $3,000 (Note: this contribution was criticized by One Montgomery, which earned a response from Austin.)
Alexander Bush, Chairman, Montgomery County Republican Party: $500
Pete Fosselman, Former Mayor, Town of Kensington: $100

Sunil Dasgupta
MSEA Fund for Children and Public Education: $3,500 (Note: this is the state teachers union. The county teachers union has endorsed Dasgupta.)
SEIU Local 500: $1,000 (Note: this union represents support staff in MCPS and has endorsed Dasgupta.)
Sidney Katz, Montgomery County Council Member: $250
Eric Luedtke, Delegate: $250
Jeffrey Slavin, Mayor, Town of Somerset: $250
Casey Anderson, Chair, Planning Board: $100
Aruna Miller, Former Delegate: $100
Mark Pierzchala, Council Member, City of Rockville: $100
Steve Silverman, Former Montgomery County Council Member: $100
Vaughn Stewart, Delegate: $100
Partap Verma, Planning Board Member: $100
Neil Harris, Council Member, City of Gaithersburg: $50
Dan Reed, Author, Just Up the Pike: $50
Hans Riemer, Montgomery County Council Member: $50

Jay Guan
Lily Qi, Delegate: $500

Lynne Harris
Diana Conway, President, Women’s Democratic Club: $300
Marc Elrich, Montgomery County Executive: $100
Tom Hucker, Montgomery County Council Member: $100
Jill Ortman-Fouse, Former School Board Member: $100
Al Carr, Delegate: $50

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Why is Ben Jealous Losing? One Reason: Money

In a state that voted over 60% for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and in which 48% of voters strongly disapprove of Donald Trump, you’d think our Republican Governor would face a steep climb to reelection. In an interview with Mother Jones early this year, Jealous claimed “Donald Trump will take care of Larry Hogan.”

it’s just not working out that way. Even if the race tightens, most polls suggest that Larry Hogan is about to romp home with the largest victory margin for a Republican in eons. Jealous’s campaign manager complains feebly that the “polling is just wrong.”

What happened?

All campaigns understandably like to describe themselves as people powered but money remains the mother’s milk of politics. The campaign with the most money doesn’t always win but more money doesn’t hurt. Even if they can’t raise more than their opponent, campaigns need enough of the green to get their message out. The 2018 gubernatorial race has been no exception.

In the Democratic primary, Jealous used his national connections to handily out raise his opponents. Moreover, organizations pay attention to fundraising and Jealous leveraged his prowess to gain further support.

Jealous benefited additionally from outside expenditures in excess of $1 million that paid for a burst of television ads in Baltimore as the campaign drew to a close. Put in context, this amount exceeded the total raised by any single candidate according to the final pre-primary campaign finance report.

In an uncomfortable symmetry, Jealous now finds himself in the position of his primary opponents. During the primary, Jealous boasted that he could raise in excess of $10 million for the general election. But Jealous raised $1.1 million in the two months following the primary.

Hogan took in $2.5 million over the same short period, leaving him a total of $9.4 million to spend at in the final months of the campaign. Compounding Jealous’s problems, the Republican Governors Association has spent  $1.4 million to boost Hogan. Unlike in the primary, no outside groups seem willing to aid Jealous.

As a result, Hogan has been able to pound home the message the Jealous is a far-left candidate and tout himself as a moderate fellow who survived cancer and turned around Maryland. Jealous’s lack of funds has left Hogan’s attacks unanswered.

Leaving aside Hogan’s barrage, I could almost swear I live in Virginia. I now know that Barbara Trumpstock votes more with Big Orange than any other Virginia representative. Genial Tim Kaine has joined her as a regular presence on the box. I even saw a stray ad for Ben Cardin. Nothing from Ben Jealous.

If the Jealous campaign is spending money to communicate by other means in my neck of the woods, they’re hiding it well. Nothing from the welter of progressive organizations backing him either. Ads for Marc Elrich have started appearing in my web searches. Nothing from Jealous. No email. No snail mail. No phone calls. No texts. No door knocking. No carrier pigeons. Nothing.

Heck, I can’t recall having laid eyes on a single yard sign for Jealous.

Despite his vaunted fundraising and community organizing skills at the NAACP, the campaign has not raised enough to be competitive in a statewide race against a strong opponent. Voters are learning little about the candidate or his message from the campaign. Larry Hogan has been happy to fill in the blanks.

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Hogan is Blowing Out Jealous in MoCo Fundraising

By Adam Pagnucco.

Montgomery County is sometimes referred to as “the ATM of Maryland.”  That’s because it’s the largest single source of tax revenue for the state and generates much of the state aid that is sent to other jurisdictions.  But in politics, MoCo is also the ATM of statewide Democratic politicians.  U.S. Senators, Governors, Attorneys General, Comptrollers and candidates for those offices are heavily dependent on the county for political money.  Sure, they raise money from Downtown Baltimore, Roland Park, Towson, Pikesville, Owings Mills and Annapolis too, but from a fundraising perspective, nothing compares to the mansions of Chevy Chase, Bethesda and Potomac.

Now there’s a new person claiming MoCo as his political ATM.  He’s not a Democrat.  He is Republican Governor Larry Hogan, and he is blowing out the Democratic nominee, Ben Jealous.

Hogan’s fundraising edge is well known.  But what has not been previously reported is how much money he is raising from Montgomery County.  The table below shows that he has raised $13.5 million over the cycle with $1.5 million coming from MoCo.  That’s about five times the $303,376 amount that MoCo donors have given to Jealous.

Hogan’s edge in business fundraising is huge; Jealous only received three contributions from MoCo business entities totaling $1,750.  But Hogan has a 5-to-1 edge in MoCo individual contributions too and it is not solely due to big checks.  Hogan’s average contribution from MoCo individuals is $239; for Jealous, that figure is $196.  Do the rough math and it’s obvious that waaaaaaaay more people in MoCo have given money to Hogan than Jealous.

How does this compare to previous races?  Below we compare fundraising by the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial tickets over the last four cycles.  Running mate accounts are included.  MoCo results are shown at top and grand totals are shown at bottom.  All data is through June 10, the cutoff for the most recent 2018 report, to make the data comparable across cycles.

Of the prior three cycles, 2006 is the most comparable to the present day since it had a GOP Governor and a Democratic challenger.  One difference was that Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley was running against MoCo Executive Doug Duncan, who had a natural advantage in MoCo fundraising.  Even so, O’Malley did not trail Governor Bob Ehrlich by much in MoCo and had a modest advantage in total fundraising.  In the next two cycles, the Democrats blew out the GOP nominees in both MoCo and in total raised.  Interestingly, Hogan’s MoCo fundraising this cycle is similar to the amounts raised from MoCo by O’Malley in 2010 and the Anthony Brown/Ken Ulman team in 2014.  Meanwhile, Jealous’s MoCo fundraising is in the same ballpark as what Ehrlich collected from the county in 2010.

That means the Hogan-Jealous gap, both in MoCo and overall, is extremely unusual by historical standards.  It’s not surprising that an incumbent Governor would lead in fundraising.  It IS surprising that he would blow out a challenger in the number one financial stronghold for the opposing party by five to one.  And Hogan is doing that with former Maryland Democratic Party Chair and long-time MoCo player Susan Turnbull on Jealous’s ticket.

Jealous became the Democratic nominee shortly after this reporting period closed.  With his primary rivals out of the way, he should begin raising more money from MoCo and other Democratic money sources soon.  But the financial gap he has against Hogan is probably too big to be closed.  And a big reason for that is Hogan’s support from MoCo donors.

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Is Ficker Using Public Financing to Promote His Law Practice?

By Adam Pagnucco.

County Executive candidate Robin Ficker is enrolled in the county’s public financing program and has announced that he has qualified for $231,185 in public matching funds.  Those funds are supposed to be used to finance his campaign for office.  But his Facebook ads raise the question of whether he is also using them to promote his law practice.

Ficker has run at least three political Facebook ads from his Robin Ficker Law Offices page.

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The content of the ads is unquestionably political.  But the Facebook page is a mixed bag.  It advertises his services as a criminal defense lawyer and has his business phone number.  It also offers a combination of political content and promotion of Ficker’s legal work.

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To be fair, Ficker’s ads do not advertise the legal posts.   But whenever a voter sees one of his political ads, they see “Robin Ficker Law Offices” at the top.

Maryland COMAR 33.13.10.03 prohibits the use of campaign funds for “the personal use or the personal benefit of a candidate.”  Montgomery County COMCOR 16.21.01.05 prohibits the use of public financing funds for “personal use.”  Whether Ficker is running afoul of these regulations is a matter for the authorities.  But if he wants to avoid this issue entirely, Ficker should establish a political Facebook page that is separate from his business.  That’s what other candidates do and Ficker should do the same.

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What We Learned About Public Campaign Financing

By Adam Pagnucco.

This past primary saw the first use of public campaign financing in local elections in Maryland.  Many people both inside and outside Montgomery County have been watching the system’s performance.  For the benefit of both MoCo policy makers as well as those in other jurisdictions who are considering adoption of this system, here are the things we have learned about public financing.

Public financing was heavily used and helped attract a record number of candidates.

Thirty-three candidates enrolled in public financing.  Four of them ran for Executive, nineteen ran for Council At-Large and ten ran in Council Districts.  Of these candidates, twenty-three qualified for matching funds – all four Executive candidates, twelve Council At-Large candidates and seven District candidates.  That’s a 70% qualification rate.  MoCo has never had as many candidates for county office as it had this year – not even close! – and public financing was partially responsible for that.  Several candidates told your author that they would not have considered running if public financing had not been available.

Candidates in public financing can win.

Of ten county-level seats, six – Council District 3, Council District 4 and all four Council At-Large seats – were won by candidates in public financing.  Three of these winners were incumbents and three were not.  The County Executive seat may also be won by a publicly financed candidate pending absentee and provisional ballot counts.

But did public financing change the outcome?

The three incumbents who used public financing and won did not need the system to win.  Of the three non-incumbents who won while using it, we predicted that two – Council At-Large candidates Evan Glass and Will Jawando – would be strong contenders more than a year ago because they had run credible races before.  The third non-incumbent public financing winner, Council At-Large candidate Gabe Albornoz, would have at least been a viable candidate in the traditional system because of his endorsement by the Washington Post and his networks in the party, the community and among Ike Leggett supporters.  The leading Executive candidate in public financing, Marc Elrich, has long outperformed his fundraising and benefited from significant outside progressive support.  In no instance can we point to public financing as THE reason a candidate who was otherwise not viable became a winner.  In fact, if all candidates had used the traditional system, it’s possible that the exact same group of them would have won.

It was cheaper than expected.

The county set aside $11 million in its public election fund on the assumption that there would be many new candidates and that a lot of them would max out in public matching funds.  Yes, there were a lot of candidates, but only four – Council At-Large candidates Evan Glass and Will Jawando, Council District 1 candidate Reggie Oldak and Council District 3 incumbent Sidney Katz – maxed out.  Two more Council At-Large candidates – incumbent Hans Riemer and Bill Conway – came close and County Executive candidate Marc Elrich was not far off.  As a result, the county spent $4 million in matching funds distributions through the end of June – waaaaaay less than the $11 million in the public election fund.

Incumbents did well in the system.

In his 2014 race, Council At-Large incumbent Hans Riemer raised $271,817.  Four years later in public financing, Riemer raised $326,866 through June – a 20% improvement.  Council District 3 incumbent Sidney Katz raised $135,589 in 2014.  Four years later in public financing, Katz raised $176,265 through June – a 30% improvement.  Council incumbent Marc Elrich, who ran for Executive, raised $851,602 through June, a higher total than he had raised before and enough to let him compete with a multi-million-dollar self-funder.  Fellow council incumbent George Leventhal, who also ran for Executive, had decent fundraising with $628,426 but his campaign was hurt by front-loaded spending and few endorsements.

The system did not produce credible challenges to district incumbents.

Council District incumbents Craig Rice, Nancy Navarro and Tom Hucker blew out little-known challengers.  In the latter case, Hucker’s challenger actually qualified for matching funds and sent out two negative mail pieces but was still wiped out by 45 points in early and election day voting.  In the only competitive district race, District 3 incumbent Sidney Katz used public financing to defeat Ben Shnider, who ran in the traditional system.  The lack of competitiveness in district races is a long-standing trend that public financing has not changed.

Public financing was administratively challenging.

While no users of public financing told your author that they regretted participating in the system, all of them complained about its cumbersome administrative requirements – especially showing proof of residency to obtain matching funds and dealing with filing issues in the state’s software.  The State Board of Elections has every right to verify in-county residency before authorizing release of public funds, but the system’s ease of use should be reviewed by the next County Council.

Raising money in public financing takes a long time.

We wrote about this during the campaign.  Because the system relies on a large volume of small contributions, contacting those MANY small contributors takes a long time to pile up serious cash.  Late entrants into public financing like County Executive candidate Rose Krasnow and Council At-Large candidate Jill Ortman-Fouse were unable to match competitors in fundraising who also used public financing.  The lesson here is if you are going to use this system, start running early.

Self-funders did not overwhelm the system.

In the County Executive race, public financing candidate Marc Elrich fought self-funding David Blair, who gave his campaign at least $2.9 million, to a virtual draw.  In Council District 1, Meredith Wellington – who gave her campaign $78,000 – is on her way to finishing fourth behind public financing candidates Ana Sol Gutierrez and Reggie Oldak.  Self-funding was not a major factor in the Council At-Large race.

Public financing did not stop interest group participation in the election.

Interest groups may not have been able to contribute large individual, corporate and PAC checks to candidates but they still played.  They spent significant amounts on TV and mail in the Executive race and some progressive groups canvassed for their candidates.  Just as importantly, institutional endorsements mattered as much as ever.  Marc Elrich could not have come close in the Executive race without them.  District 1 candidate Ana Sol Gutierrez benefited from them to finish second even though she had lackluster fundraising.  District 3 candidate Ben Shnider had many and came closer to winning than most people initially believed.  And all four winning Council At-Large candidates (incumbent Hans Riemer, Will Jawando, Evan Glass and Gabe Albornoz) had lots of them.  Candidates who lacked interest group support, like Executive candidates Rose Krasnow and George Leventhal and Council At-Large candidates Hoan Dang, Bill Conway and Jill Ortman-Fouse did not come close to winning.  Savvy interest groups can exploit public financing by helping candidates of their choice raise money inside the system while using their own money to finance PAC and independent expenditure activity.  Here’s a prediction: all of the above will happen again.

Most women using public financing did not win.

Much has been said about the next County Council having just one female member.  District 4 incumbent Nancy Navarro used public financing to defeat a no-name challenger.  But no other woman in public financing came that close to winning.  In early and election day voting, Gutierrez trailed traditionally financed candidate Andrew Friedson in District 1 by seven points.  Krasnow finished third in the Executive race by fourteen points.  And the highest-performing woman in the Council At-Large race was Marilyn Balcombe, who used traditional financing to finish fifth.

There are numerous reasons to explain these finishes.  Gutierrez’s primary voter base was in Wheaton, which is outside District 1.  Krasnow and Council At-Large candidate Jill Ortman-Fouse raised money quickly but started too late to raise a lot of it.  Council At-Large candidates Brandy Brooks and Danielle Meitiv were unknown in county political circles before running so they could not tap into preexisting donor networks.  We believe that female candidates can succeed in the system, but we admit that this cycle presents little evidence of that.

Public financing amplified the influence of the Democratic Crescent.

We have written before about the Democratic Crescent, the region of the county stretching along the Beltway from Takoma Park in the east to Cabin John and Bethesda in the West.  This area has a disproportionate number of Democratic activists, voters and political contributors and sent Jamie Raskin to Congress two years ago.  Back in March, we found that the Crescent accounted for a majority of public financing contributions to Executive and Council At-Large candidates and waaaaay out-paced contributions from Upcounty.  If we were to repeat that exercise today, we have little reason to believe that the result would be significantly different.

The impact of Crescent participation was clearly seen in the Council At-Large results.  Riemer, Glass and Albornoz live in the Crescent.  Jawando lives outside it but much of his base in Legislative District 20 is inside it.  All four oppose M-83, the Upcounty highway demanded by many in Clarksburg.

There has only been one At-Large Council Member from Upcounty since the current council structure was created in 1990.  That person – Gaithersburg resident Mike Subin – has an asterisk since he was originally elected in District 2 in 1986 and shifted to an at-large seat when the new structure was put in place four years later.  And so the trend of not electing Upcounty residents to at-large seats was well established prior to this year but we wonder if public financing will lock it in.

We have spent $4 million on public financing so far.  Was it worth it?

We laid out the pluses and minuses above.  Readers, this question is for you to answer!

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Campaign Finance Reports: Council At-Large, June 2018

By Adam Pagnucco.

Let’s look at the June campaign finance reports for the Council At-Large candidates, the last ones available prior to the primary.  A note on methodology.  First, we calculate total raised and total spent across the entire cycle and not just over the course of one report period.  Second, we separate self-funding from funds raised from others.  Self-funding includes money from spouses.  Third, for publicly financed candidates, we include public matching fund distributions that have been requested but not deposited in raised money and in the column entitled “Cash Balance With Requested Public Contributions.”  That gives you a better idea of the true financial position of publicly financed campaigns.

Below is our fundraising summary for the Council At-Large candidates.  We are including only those who have qualified for matching funds in the public financing system or have raised at least $100,000 in traditional financing.  With a field this deep and talented, candidates who have not met either of these thresholds will struggle to compete.

Four candidates are bunched at the top: incumbent Hans Riemer and Will Jawando, Evan Glass and Bill Conway.  Two more – Hoan Dang and Gabe Albornoz – have raised enough money to compare with past candidates who have won.  Then there is MCPS teacher Chris Wilhelm, who is working as hard as anyone and has an entire side of the Apple Ballot to himself.  That has to be worth the equivalent of an extra mailer or two.  Finally, school board member Jill Ortman-Fouse is not a money leader, having entered the race very late, but she does have a base of loyalists who could be very useful in working the polls on Election Day.  Overall, our view is that Riemer will be reelected, Jawando and Glass are in good positions and one – maybe two – of the others named above will likely also be elected.

Here’s a question for the readers: why are the female candidates not raising more money?  Danielle Meitiv (who ranks 10th on the chart above), Marilyn Balcombe (11th), Brandy Brooks (12th) and Ortman-Fouse (14th) are all good candidates running in an electorate that is 60% female.  Not only do their totals lag the above men – they also lag the amounts raised by Beth Daly (2014), Becky Wagner (2010), Duchy Trachtenberg (2006 and 2010) and of course four-term incumbent Nancy Floreen.  Public financing was supposed to equalize the influence of small contributors, including women, with corporate interests that are overwhelmingly male dominated.  And yet the nine top fundraisers are men.

Let’s remember that the best-financed candidates don’t always win.  Exhibit A is the chronically underfunded Marc Elrich, who finished first in the last two at-large races and could be the next County Executive.  The at-large race also has produced surprises in the past, including the defeats of incumbents Blair Ewing (2002), Mike Subin (2006) and Trachtenberg (2010).  As soon as your author thinks he has the at-large race figured out – BAM! – something different happens!

This is probably the best at-large field in MoCo history.  It’s sad that only four of them will win.  But so it is.  On to Election Night.

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Campaign Finance Reports: County Executive, June 2018

By Adam Pagnucco.

The June campaign finance reports are in and they will be the last ones available prior to the primary. Today, we’ll look at the County Executive race.  A note on methodology.  First, we calculate total raised and total spent across the entire cycle and not just over the course of one report period.  Second, we separate self-funding from funds raised from others.  Self-funding includes money from spouses.  Third, for publicly financed candidates, we include public matching fund distributions that have been requested but not deposited in raised money and in the column entitled “Cash Balance With Requested Public Contributions.”  That gives you a better idea of the true financial position of publicly financed campaigns.

Below is our fundraising summary for the County Executive candidates.  The numbers for Robin Ficker presume he has qualified for public matching funds but we have not heard definitively whether he has.

It’s official: David Blair has broken Steve Silverman’s 2006 spending record of $2 million in an Executive race.  (Sorry Steve but you knew it wouldn’t last forever!)  Blair’s $3 million in spending, mostly self-financed, exceeds the $2.1 million combined total so far reported by the other candidates.

Marc Elrich has excelled in public financing and has also had the good fortune to see the second-best financed candidate (Roger Berliner) going negative in TV and mail against the best-financed candidate (Blair).  Combine that with the attack strategy of Progressive Maryland and Elrich can use his own money to promote himself and let others do the dirty work of bringing Blair down.  It couldn’t get any better for Elrich.

Speaking of the attacks on Blair, the scale of them is becoming clear.  Berliner has spent $51,048 on mail and $391,234 on TV, all of which had negative messaging about Blair.  The Progressive Maryland Liberation Alliance PAC has so far raised $100,000, most of it in union money, to oppose Blair.  The combined amount between the two – $542,282 – is likely the most money ever spent on attacking a candidate for County Executive and the race is not over.  To our knowledge, none of the other Executive candidates has been targeted by negative TV commercials or negative mail.

The other three Democratic candidates – George Leventhal, Rose Krasnow and Bill Frick – are struggling to compete with limited resources.  Leventhal has had money problems for the entire campaign but he is working his heart out.  That plus his longevity and diverse base of supporters get him into the mix but he is still a long shot to win.

Rumors have swirled for weeks about labor polling and MCGEO President Gino Renne confirmed them to Bethesda Magazine on Friday.  Renne said that Elrich and Blair were “neck and neck” in a number of polls and said, “When you combine all the different polls, it’s a good solid snapshot of what’s going on… I would say it’s statistically insignificant [between Elrich and Blair]. It’s all about who can get their voters to the polls. If the election were today, I’d have to call it a toss-up.”

We have written about Elrich’s base before: it’s a combination of anti-development activists, progressives and people living in and near Takoma Park.  But Blair is developing a base too by consolidating those who want a different direction in county government.  Frick and Krasnow have a similar message but they don’t have the money to make it stick like Blair does.  And so this election is turning into a contest between different visions of change: a move towards greater progressivism or a move away from tax hikes and towards more economic development.

Who knows which side will win?

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A Request for the State Board of Elections and the General Assembly

By Adam Pagnucco.

One of the purposes for the disclosure of political contributions is to help voters decide whom to support in elections.  In order to serve that role, contributions should be disclosed with enough time remaining before the election so that voters can review them before proceeding to the voting booth.  But that’s not quite the case in Maryland.

Recently, we wrote that the percentage of voters who vote early has been rising for years.  That percentage hit a high of 31% in the 2016 general election and could be between 20% and 25% in the upcoming primary.  Unfortunately for some of those voters, they will not have access to the latest campaign finance reports when they vote.  Consider the following entries on the state’s election calendar.

Primary Election

Annual 2017 campaign finance report due: 1/17/18 (11:59 PM)

Pre-primary 1 campaign finance report due: 5/22/18 (11:59 PM)

Early voting begins: 6/14/18

Pre-primary 2 campaign finance report due: 6/15/18 (11:59 PM)

General Election

Pre-general 1 campaign finance report due: 8/28/18 (11:59 PM)

Early voting begins: 10/25/18

Pre-general 2 campaign finance report due: 10/26/18 (11:59 PM)

The above calendar shows that people voting during the first two days of the early voting period will have no way to know about the contents of the last pre-election campaign finance reports when they vote.  This is potentially important because there are sometimes surprises in those last reports.  In 2014, the Baltimore Sun reported on October 26 that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Anthony Brown received a $500,000 loan from the Laborers Union in his final pre-general report, an unusual event that far exceeded the $6,000 limit on PAC contributions.  However, early voting started on October 23.  According to the State Board of Elections, 101,537 people voted during the first three days of early vote in the 2014 general election and would have not seen that report in the Sun.  One can easily imagine similar surprises occurring with regards to big self-funding checks, bundled corporate contributions, out-of-state PAC checks or the like.

To remedy this problem, we request that the State Board of Elections and/or the General Assembly change the due date of the final pre-election campaign finance report to 72 hours before early voting begins.  This will give the media time enough to report on anything interesting in those last reports and for voters to consider it before they head to the booth.

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