Category Archives: David Blair

Winners and Losers of the Ballot Question War

By Adam Pagnucco.

This year, MoCo saw its biggest battle over ballot questions in sixteen years. Most county players lined up on one side or the other and victory has been declared. Who won and who lost?

Winners

Council Member Andrew “Real Deal” Friedson
Friedson authored Question A, which liberalized the county’s property tax system to allow receipts to increase with assessments. Wall Street applauded its passage. Even progressives, who don’t love Friedson but owe him big-time for opening up the county’s revenue stream, have to admit that his Question A was the real deal.

Council Member Evan Glass
Glass authored Question C, which added two district council seats and defeated the nine district Question D. Lots of wannabe politicians are going to look at running for the new seats. Every single one of them should kiss Glass’s ring and write a max-out check to his campaign account.

County Democratic Party
It’s not a coincidence that MoCo voters adopted the positions of the county Democratic Party on all four ballot questions. With partisan sentiments running high and information on the questions running low, MoCo Democrats went along with their party and dominated the election.

David Blair
Blair was the number one contributor to the four ballot issue committees that passed Questions A and C and defeated Questions B and D. By himself, Blair accounted for nearly half the money they raised. Whatever Blair decides to do heading into the next election, he can claim to have done as much to pass the county Democrats’ positions on the ballot questions as anyone. (Disclosure: I have done work for Blair’s non-profit but I was not involved in his ballot question activities.)

Ike Leggett
The former county executive was key in leading the fight against Robin Ficker’s anti-tax Question B and the nine county council district Question D. Thousands of MoCo voters still like, respect and trust Ike Leggett.

Jews United for Justice
While not having the money and manpower of many other groups who played on the questions, Jews United for Justice played a key role in convening the coalition that ultimately won. They have gained a lot of respect from many influencers in MoCo politics.

Facebook
Lord knows how much money they made from all the ballot question ads!

Losers

Robin Ficker
At the beginning of 2020, MoCo had one of the most restrictive property tax charter limits of any county in Maryland. For many years, Ficker was looking to make it even tighter and petitioned Question B to the ballot to convert it into a near-lock on revenues. But his charter amendment provoked Friedson to write Question A, which ultimately passed while Question B failed and will raise much more money than the current system over time. Instead of tightening the current system, the result is a more liberal system that will achieve the opposite of what Ficker wanted – more revenue for the county. This was one of the biggest backfires in all of MoCo political history.

Republicans
The county’s Republican Party did everything they could to pass Ficker’s anti-tax Question B and the nine county council district Question D. In particular, they gave both cash and in-kind contributions to Nine Districts and even raised money for the group on their website. In doing so, the GOP provoked a fierce partisan backlash as the county Democrats rose up to take the opposite positions on the ballot questions and most Democratic-leaning groups combined forces to support them. With President Donald Trump apparently defeated, Governor Larry Hogan leaving office in two years and little prospect of success in MoCo awaiting them, where does the county’s Republican Party go from here?

This tweet by MoCo for Question C from a voting location explains all you need to know about why Question D failed.

Political Outsiders
It wasn’t just Republicans who supported the failed Questions B and D; a range of political outsiders supported them too. What they witnessed was a mammoth effort by the Democratic Party, Democratic elected officials and (mostly) progressive interest groups to thwart them. Even the county chamber of commerce and the realtors lined up against them. Whether or not it’s true, this is bound to provoke more talk of a “MoCo Machine.” Machine or not, outsiders have to be wondering how to win when establishment forces combine against them.

Push

MCGEO, Fire Fighters and Police Unions
These three unions are frustrated. They have not been treated the way they expected by the administration of County Executive Marc Elrich and they are also upset with the county council for abrogating their contracts (among other things). They wanted to show that they could impose consequences for messing with them and that was one reason why all three made thousands of dollars of in-kind contributions to Nine Districts. On the negative side, the nine districts Question D failed. On the positive side, the passage of Friedson’s Question A will result in a flow of more dollars into the county budget over time, a win for their members. So it’s a push. On to the next election.

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MoCo Ballot Issue Committee Campaign Finances, October 18

By Adam Pagnucco.

The six committees formed to advocate for and against MoCo’s ballot questions have filed their final campaign finance reports before the general election, covering the period through October 18. Let’s see where the money is coming from.

First, a quick summary of the ballot questions.

Question A: Would freeze the property tax rate but allow a unanimous vote of the council to increase it. Authored by Council Member Andrew Friedson.
See Why Progressives Should Support the Friedson Amendment.

Question B: Would remove the ability of the county council to break the current charter limit on property taxes, thereby capping property tax revenue growth at the rate of inflation. Authored by Robin Ficker.

Question C: Would add 2 district seats to the county council, thereby establishing 7 district seats and 4 at-large seats. Authored by Council Member Evan Glass.
See MoCo Could Use More County Council Districts.

Question D: Would convert the current council’s 5 district seats and 4 at-large seats to 9 district seats. Authored by Nine District for MoCo.
See Don’t Abolish the At-Large County Council Seats, Nine Kings and Queens.

Here is a summary of finances for the committees for the entire cycle through October 18.

To understand why these flows of money are occurring, it’s useful to recall the genesis of these questions. This year’s ballot question fight was joined when two questions were placed on the ballot by petition: Robin Ficker’s anti-tax Question B and Nine Districts for MoCo’s Question D, which would eliminate council at-large seats and remake the council into 9 district seats. In response to those ballot questions, the county council put two of its own questions on the ballot to compete with them: Question A (a different tax limitation measure) and Question C (which would keep the at-large seats and add two district seats). It is believed by some that if two directly conflicting ballot questions pass, they will both get thrown out, though that is not 100% certain.

Once it became clear that both Ficker’s anti-tax question and the nine districts question were going to appear on the ballot, no fewer than four new ballot issue committees were created to stop one or both of them and/or to promote the council’s alternatives. In short order, many of the county’s power players took sides in an uncommon off-year ballot question war. The players’ positions are at least as interesting as the committees’ activities themselves.

Nine Districts for MoCo, the oldest of the committees, has by far the most individual contributors but 82% of its cash funding has come from the real estate industry. In its most recent report, MoCo GOP Central Committee Member Ann Hingston made 6 more in-kind contributions totaling $993, thereby providing more evidence of the links between Nine Districts and the county Republican Party. Nine Districts’ fundraising pace has slowed as they have collected just $154 since October 4.

The competing committees have rapidly closed the gap. Three groups have paid for mail: former County Executive Ike Leggett’s group opposing Questions B and D, former executive candidate David Blair’s group supporting Question A and opposing Question B and Residents for More Representation, a group supporting Question C and opposing Question D. These groups are also paying for websites and online advertising. But they got off to a late start while Nine Districts has been campaigning for more than a year.

Below are all the major players who have contributed at least $10,000 to one or a combination of these ballot issue committees.

David Blair – $165,000
Supports Questions A and C, opposes Questions B and D
Businessman and former executive candidate David Blair is the number one spender on ballot questions. He has contributed $65,000 to Legget’s group opposing Questions B and D, $50,000 to his own group supporting Question A and opposing Question B, and $50,000 to Residents for More Representation, which supports Question C and opposes Question D. Blair’s positions mirror the positions taken by the county Democratic Party. (Disclosure: I have done work for Blair’s non-profit but I am not involved in his ballot question activities.)

Charlie Nulsen – $123,500
Supports Questions A, C and D, opposes Question B
Nulsen is the president of Washington Property Company. On June 4, he contributed $50,000 to Nine Districts to help get Question D on the ballot. On October 13, he contributed $23,500 to Residents for More Representation to defeat Question D. Nulsen could have saved more than $70,000 and achieved the same outcome by simply doing nothing. He also contributed $50,000 to Blair’s group supporting Question A and opposing Question B.

Monte Gingery – $40,000
Supports Question D
The head of Gingery Development Group has made three contributions totaling $40,000 to Nine Districts.

Willco – $40,000
Supports Questions C and D
On August 5, this Potomac developer gave an in-kind contribution of $15,000 to Nine Districts which was used to pay Rowland Strategies (their campaign firm). On October 9, Willco gave $25,000 to Residents for More Representation, which is seeking to pass Question C and defeat Nine Districts. Folks, you can’t make it up.

MCGEO – $30,000
Supports Question A, Opposes Question B, Gave Contribution to Question D
The Municipal and County Government Employees Organization (MCGEO) has made a $20,000 contribution to Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B and a $10,000 in-kind contribution to Nine Districts. MCGEO President Gino Renne is the treasurer of Empower PAC, which gave another $5,000 to Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B.

MCEA – $20,000
Opposes Question B
The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) has contributed $20,000 to Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B.

UFCW Local 400 – $10,000
Opposes Question B
This grocery store union which shares a parent union with MCGEO gave $10,000 to Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B.

The Montgomery County Democratic Party recommends voting for Questions A and C and voting against Questions B and D. The Montgomery County Republican Party recommends the exact opposite. The Washington Post editorial board opposes all four ballot questions.

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Who is Spending Money on the Ballot Questions?

By Adam Pagnucco.

The six committees formed to advocate for and against MoCo’s ballot questions have filed campaign finance reports through October 4. Let’s see who is paying for all of this – so far.

First, a quick summary of the ballot questions.

Question A: Would freeze the property tax rate but allow a unanimous vote of the council to increase it. Authored by Council Member Andrew Friedson.
See Why Progressives Should Support the Friedson Amendment.

Question B: Would remove the ability of the county council to break the current charter limit on property taxes, thereby capping property tax revenue growth at the rate of inflation. Authored by Robin Ficker.

Question C: Would add 2 district seats to the county council, thereby establishing 7 district seats and 4 at-large seats. Authored by Council Member Evan Glass.
See MoCo Could Use More County Council Districts.

Question D: Would convert the current council’s 5 district seats and 4 at-large seats to 9 district seats. Authored by Nine District for MoCo.
See Don’t Abolish the At-Large County Council Seats, Nine Kings and Queens.

Here is a summary of committee finances for the entire cycle.

Nine District for MoCo, by far the oldest committee, has raised and spent the most money. It has had far more individual contributions (252) than Ike Leggett’s Vote No on B and D (30) with no other committee reporting any. Real estate interests have accounted for 83% of Nine District’s cash contributions. Interestingly, while Washington Property Company president Charlie Nulsen and the three county employee unions were major Nine District contributors in prior reports, they have not contributed any more since July. Nine District has collected contributions from leaders of the county’s Republican Party, which has raised money for the group on its website. The group has spent money on fees for Baltimore consultant Rowland Strategies, legal fees, robocalls and advertising (especially on Facebook).

Vote No on B & D, Leggett’s committee, spent $9,610 on graphic design for printing and campaign materials and $58,437 on direct mailing. So far, this is the only expenditure by any committee on mail. (Where’s my mailer, Ike?) Two other committees have collected money but not spent it and two more have collected less than $1,000.

Here are the biggest contributors to these committees and their positions on the ballot questions.

David Blair – $100,000
Supports Question A, Opposes Questions B and D
The former county executive candidate has given $50,000 each to Leggett’s group opposing Questions B and D and his own group supporting Question A and opposing Question B.

Charlie Nulsen – $50,000
Supports Question D
The president of Washington Property Company made one $50,000 contribution to Nine District for MoCo on 6/4/20. This was a critical boost for the group as it was in the home stretch of gathering signatures to appear on the ballot.

Monte Gingery – $40,000
Supports Question D
The head of Gingery Development Group has made three contributions totaling $40,000 to Nine District for MoCo.

MCGEO – $30,000
Opposes Question B, Supports Question D
The largest county government employee union gave $20,000 to Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B and made a $10,000 in-kind contribution to Nine District for MoCo. MCGEO President Gino Renne is the treasurer of Empower PAC, which gave another $5,000 to Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B.

Willco – $15,000
Supports Question D
The Potomac developer gave an in-kind contribution of $15,000 to Nine District for MoCo which was used to pay Rowland Strategies.

UFCW Local 400 – $10,000
Opposes Question B
This grocery store union which shares a parent union with MCGEO gave $10,000 to Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B.

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New Ad Supports Question A

By Adam Pagnucco.

Montgomery Countians for Question A & Against Question B, a ballot issue committee headed by David Blair, has announced its first ad. The ad and accompanying press release appear below.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 7, 2020

Scott Goldberg
Montgomery Countians for Question A & Against Question B
Scott@AistheAnswer.com

PRO QUESTION A & ANTI QUESTION B EFFORT LAUNCHES

Group Headed by David Blair Announces First Round of Ads Supporting Fiscal Responsibility

Montgomery Countians For Question A & Against Question B is spearheading a significant campaign to pass Question A and oppose Question B on citizens’ ballots this fall. A broad spectrum of growing groups and individuals share this policy position including the Greater Capital Area Association of REALTORS® (GCAAR), Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teachers Association, Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, Montgomery County Education Association, the Montgomery County Democratic Party, Jews United for Justice, the Sierra Club, SEIU Local 500, all 8 State Senators and 32 Delegates representing Montgomery County, State Treasurer Nancy Kopp, and former Republican Councilmember Howie Denis.

Enacting Question A is a fix to our broken property tax system. “I strongly support Question A. This common-sense measure will set a consistent property tax rate so we can adequately plan to fund our schools, parks, and libraries,” according to David Blair, Chair of the Council for Advocacy and Policy Solutions and the ballot issue committee. State Treasurer Nancy Kopp has this to say: “Montgomery County is the gold standard in this country when it comes to public finances because our leaders make thoughtful, reasoned decisions. Question A continues allows county officials to balance budget stability, fiscal responsibility, and financial flexibility in a crisis. Question B would endanger Montgomery County’s financial well-being, threatening our triple AAA bond rating and creating instability for future budgets.” GCAAR has been working in close collaboration and their 2020 President, Danai Mattison Sky, says “Question A would modernize the property tax charter limit allowing for proper, measured growth in the county. Question B would threaten the financial stability of our county and endanger our AAA bond rating. GCAAR is proud to stand For Question A and Against Question B.”

In the coming days, the Committee will release digital ads, a social media plan including Facebook (@QAistheAnswer), Twitter (@AistheAnswer), and Instagram (@QAistheAnswer), direct mail and launch a website which can be found at www.AistheAnswer.com.

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