Category Archives: Robin Ficker

Could Ficker Win a Three-Way Race for Executive?

By Adam Pagnucco.

There is much condemnation of Council Member Nancy Floreen among Democratic activists for leaving the party and launching an independent run for Executive.  Some of the outrage is related to party loyalty.  Some of it is related to support for the apparent Democratic primary winner, Marc Elrich.  And some of it is related to Floreen’s record in office and historic support by the business community.  Those are all value judgments best left to the readers.  But one concern can actually be evaluated with data – the notion that a Floreen candidacy could enable GOP candidate Robin Ficker to come up the middle and squeak out a victory.  Could that actually happen?

Ficker, who has a long and infamous history in the county, has been running for office since the 1970s.  He was actually elected to a District 15 House of Delegates seat in 1978, a decision reversed by the voters four years later.  Since then, he has run for offices of all kinds and placed numerous charter amendments on the ballot.  Two of his charter amendments – a property tax limitation measure in 2008 and a term limits measure in 2016 – were passed by county voters.

Robin Ficker’s official House of Delegates picture from 1978.  Forty years later, could he be headed to elected office again?

First, let’s look at Ficker’s electoral history since the 1990s.  He has run ten times and lost on every occasion.  In every race, he has been a Republican except for 2006, when he ran as an independent for County Executive.  (Twelve years later, that’s what Nancy Floreen is doing.)

Besides all the losing, the thing that stands out here is Ficker’s unpopularity in the Republican Party.  He has entered six contested GOP primaries since 1994 and lost five of them.  The only time he had opposition and won was when he ran in the 2009 County Council District 4 special election and defeated two no-name Republicans who barely campaigned.  The lesson here is that when Republicans have an alternative to Ficker who is not a Democrat, they tend to vote for someone else.

Even Republicans are reluctant to buy what Ficker is selling.  Photo credit: Getty Images, John W. McDonough.

Cathedral wedding Veil

When he did make it to general elections, Ficker earned vote percentages ranging from 34% to 41%.  But most of those elections occurred in Upcounty districts where Republicans are a much larger percentage of the electorate than the county as a whole.

Now let’s look at the performances of GOP candidates for County Executive over the last five general elections.

One of the untold stories in MoCo elections is the recent decline in electoral performance by Democratic nominees in MoCo Executive general elections.  From 1998 through 2006, the Republican nominee did not crack 30%.  In the last two elections, the Republican got 34% of the vote.  For the most part, these were protest votes as the Republican candidates had no money, did not campaign and were not expected by anyone to win.  Another thing to note is that the only one of these elections that had an independent candidate was 2006, when Ficker ran against Ike Leggett and GOP nominee Chuck Floyd.  Ficker got just 9% of the vote, another sign of his unpopularity with both Republicans and independents.

Finally, let’s consider turnout by party in MoCo mid-term general elections.

Over the years, Democratic turnout percentage has edged up gradually, independent turnout has increased and Republican turnout has collapsed.  At some point, it’s reasonable to expect that independent turnout might exceed the GOP.

For Ficker to win, he would need to hold onto all the GOP votes, win more than 70% of independents and have Floreen and Elrich split everyone else exactly down the middle.  That would result in Ficker getting 34% of the vote and Floreen and Elrich each getting 33%.  That’s extremely unlikely for two reasons.  First, as detailed above, Ficker is weak among GOP voters and Republicans and independents would have a viable alternative in Floreen.  Second, for this scenario to work, almost half of all Democrats would have to vote against their own party’s nominee to keep Elrich at 33%.  It’s easier to see a path to victory for Floreen, who could win by getting half the Republicans, all the independents and roughly 28% of the Democrats.

Just to be clear, we are skeptical that anyone can defeat a Democratic nominee in a MoCo countywide election.  But whatever the ramifications of a possible Floreen independent run, we’re pretty sure that one of them will not be a victory by Robin Ficker.

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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.

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.

prom dress online

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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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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Campaign Finance Reports: County Executive, May 2018

By Adam Pagnucco.

The May campaign finance reports are in and we will start breaking them down with 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.

Council Member Roger Berliner (whom your author supports) is the leader in money raised other than self-funding and also in cash on hand.  He is closing in on a million dollars raised for the race, which was roughly Ike Leggett’s total in 2006.  He has enough money to be heard in the final month.

Council Member Marc Elrich is the leader among the publicly financed candidates.  His total raised of $745,352 is almost five times what he raised in his 2014 council race when public financing was not yet available.  Elrich has a long history of vastly outperforming his fundraising because of his large and loyal base of supporters, some of whom have been with him for decades.  With more than $400,000 to spend in the final month, he won’t blow anyone out, but he can combine that with a grass-roots field program to finish strong.

Businessman David Blair is going to break Steve Silverman’s fundraising record in 2006 with more than $2 million.  The difference is that Silverman raised his money from the business community while Blair is mostly a self-funder.  Blair’s self-financing of $1.9 million sends a message that he is deadly serious about winning.  He is the strongest of the outsider candidates.

Council Member George Leventhal will get votes because of his longevity, name recognition and sheer hard work in the campaign cycle.  (His brilliant Avengers-themed video could get some votes too!)  But he doesn’t have enough resources to make a big push at the end.

Former Mayor of Rockville Rose Krasnow is a substantive and knowledgeable candidate who impresses those she meets.  But she made two big mistakes in this campaign: getting in late and using public financing.  Those mistakes reinforce each other.  If she had gotten in early, she might have been able to raise enough in public financing to compete with the totals accumulated by Elrich and Leventhal.  Since she did get in late, traditional financing offered a better option to raise money in a hurry.  Now she is in the same situation as Leventhal and Bill Frick: struggling to make a final push.

Your author likes Delegate Bill Frick (D-16) a lot personally but he doesn’t have the resources to make his case.  We wish Frick had stayed in the House of Delegates and plotted a course to succeed his former district mate, Brian Frosh, as Attorney General.  The path not taken will be harder now.

Republican Robin Ficker has applied for public financing, but as of this writing, we don’t know whether he will receive it.

Overall, there are two competing narratives among those who are really focused on this race – admittedly, a minority of the voters.  First, there is the view that the county should be more progressive.  It should be bolder about closing the achievement gap, do more to help vulnerable residents (including renters), institute tougher environmental protections and push back against the influence of developers and big businesses.  People with that perspective are mostly rallying behind Elrich, who is the overwhelming choice of progressive endorsing organizations.

Then there is the narrative advanced by your author’s writings on the county budget and the economy, the Washington Post’s endorsement editorials and the now-famous report by Sage Policy Group: to pay for progressive priorities, the county needs a stronger tax base.  That message plays more to the outsider candidates, especially Blair, who put it in a recent mailer.  But there’s no reason why Berliner and Leventhal shouldn’t embrace that perspective too.

It’s important to recognize that these views are not mutually exclusive.  Not all progressives are skeptical of economic growth.  And not all people who would like to see a stronger economy oppose spending the resulting revenue on progressive priorities.  But the two messages contain differences in emphasis and differences in potential for attracting blocs of voters.  Both of them represent change in some form, implying that running on resume and experience won’t be enough in this cycle – at least not in the Executive contest.  Everyone needs to pick a path forward to win.

Next: the Council At-Large race.

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McGee Files for Matching Funds… And Then There is Ficker

By Adam Pagnucco.

Update: Council District 5 candidate Kevin Harris has also filed for matching funds on May 15, claiming $12,400 in qualifying contributions from 176 in-county residents.

Original Post: Council District 1 candidate Jim McGee filed for public matching funds on May 15.  His filing claims 157 qualifying contributors and $36,580 in qualifying contributions, above the respective thresholds for a district race of 125 and $10,000.  Two other District 1 candidates have qualified for matching funds, including Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez and Reggie Oldak, who has already applied for the maximum amount ($125,000) available under the program.

On Monday, we wrote that county law stated that the qualifying period for matching funds ended 45 days before the primary, which this year fell on Saturday, May 12.  That is true.  But at the time, we did not know that the State Board of Elections had allowed candidates to file as late as May 15 with only qualifying contributions received by May 12 eligible for matching funds.  A reader brought that to our attention and we updated the post.  But we are gonna own this one: we screwed up.  Your author apologizes to Jim McGee and Seventh State readers.

Then there is Robin Ficker, who is running for Executive in the public financing program.  Ficker registered his public account on 2/8/17 and so far has not qualified for matching funds.  (The other Executive candidates in public financing – Marc Elrich, George Leventhal and Rose Krasnow – qualified some time ago.)  Ficker told Bethesda Magazine that he was unaware that he was subject to the 45-day qualifying period because he has no primary opponent.  In order to qualify for matching funds, Executive candidates need 500 contributions from individuals living in the county totaling at least $40,000.  Ficker then sent an application for matching funds on May 15 but it asked for… zero dollars.

Can anyone figure this out for us?  Because we admit it – we can’t!

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These Public Financing Candidates Are Done

By Adam Pagnucco.

Update: Even though the deadline is May 12, the State Board of Elections said on March 30 that they will allow a candidate to file for matching funds as late as tomorrow (May 15) provided that all qualifying contributions were received by May 12.  We will see if any of the above candidates file reports by tomorrow night.

Original Post: According to Montgomery County’s public campaign financing law, candidates have until 45 days before the primary election to qualify for public matching funds.  Since the primary is on June 26, the qualifying period ended on Saturday, May 12.  According to filings with the State Board of Elections, the following candidates did not qualify for matching funds by then and will not be receiving them.

Rosemary Arkoian – At-Large

Richard Banach – District 1

Craig Carozza-Caviness – At-Large

Bill Cook – District 1

Robin Ficker – County Executive

Lorna Phillips Forde – At-Large

Richard Gottfried – At-Large

Neil Greenberger – At-Large

Kevin Harris – District 5

Kenge Malikidogo-Fludd – District 5

Jim McGee – District 1

Melissa McKenna – At-Large

Darwin Romero – At-Large

In addition, Bethesda Magazine reported that these candidates were ruled ineligible for matching funds because their submissions to the State Board of Elections did not meet the thresholds of either in-county contributors or in-county money received to qualify.

Shruti Bhatnagar – At-Large

Loretta Garcia – At-Large

Paul Geller – At-Large

Michele Riley – At-Large

Tim Willard – At-Large

These eighteen candidates represent almost half of the thirty-eight active candidates in public financing.  Starved of resources and unable to get their messages out, none of them will be elected.

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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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Stop Giving Robin Ficker More Ammo

By Adam Pagnucco.

Right about now, the happiest man in Montgomery County lives in Boyds.  He is 74, a huge sports fanatic, a long time attorney, a former state Delegate, a perpetual candidate and a tireless activist.  He loves the County Council because some of its members give him endless material for use in his never-ending demagogic campaign to weaken and ultimately paralyze county government.

Yes folks, we are talking about the notorious political heckler Robin Ficker.  And he must be jumping for joy at the news that some members of the council are considering a possible new soda tax.

Ficker has been running for office and placing charter amendments on the ballot, mostly intended to limit taxes, since the 1970s.  The huge majority of his amendments have failed, often because the political establishment labeled them “Ficker amendments” to exploit the national infamy of his heckling at Washington Bullets games.  One exception was the razor-tight passage of his 2008 charter amendment mandating that all nine Council Members vote in support of exceeding the charter limit on property taxes.  But Ficker has never had more ammo than in the last four years and he has used it to push his anti-government agenda.  Consider what has happened.

The council’s approval of a large salary increase for its members in 2013 and its passage of a 9% property tax hike in 2016 gave Ficker’s term limits charter amendment momentum.  Some Council Members then used their campaign funds to finance a lawsuit to keep term limits off the ballot, which failed.  Council Member Nancy Floreen’s “exasperated” and “defensive” performance in a television debate with Ficker and Council Member George Leventhal’s comparison of term limits supporters with Brexit voters didn’t help.  Ficker predicted term limits would pass by twenty points; instead, they passed by forty.

Robin Ficker thanks MoCo voters for giving him his biggest political win ever.

That’s not all.  Ficker has enrolled in the public financing system established by the council for his latest Executive run.  And he requested the county government’s email lists after another resident obtained them under the Public Information Act.  Any competent campaigner – maybe even Ficker – should be able to use those thousands of emails to raise enough money to qualify for public matching funds.

And now we have news of the soda tax, which prompted gleeful self-promotion by Ficker in Bethesda Magazine’s comment section.  Expect a Facebook ad soon.

Your author does not enjoy writing this column because we find merit in this particular tax.  Sugary drinks and soda are public health menaces, especially to children.  The intended use of the money for early childhood programs is a good idea.  And the current tight budget does not give any quick or easy options for funding undeniable, but expensive, priorities like early childhood education.  But the counter-argument from Ficker, who calls Council Members “tax increase specialists,” is obvious.  “They’re not listening to you,” Ficker will tell the voters.  “You told them no more tax hikes and they’re going to do it anyway.”  Even Leventhal, who has voted for numerous tax hikes and has done as much to promote public health as any Council Member ever, has come out against the new tax.

The danger here is not that Ficker will be elected.  Voters made that mistake once all the way back in 1978 and have never come close to repeating it since.  The real problem is the next charter amendment that Ficker will inevitably introduce after his latest election campaign fails.  Whatever else Ficker is, he is an astute student of Maryland county tax policies.  He is fully aware of the taxation and spending limits in the Prince George’s County charter, such as the requirements that the property tax rate may not exceed 96 cents per $100 of assessed value and that bond issues, new taxes, other tax increases and some fee increases be approved by voters.  He is also aware of provisions in the state constitution and several county charters that forbid legislative bodies from adding spending to executive budgets.  Indeed, some of his past charter amendments have been variants of such policies.

It’s one thing to raise taxes during terrible economic downturns as the county did in 2010.  That simply had to be done.  It’s a very different thing to discuss new discretionary tax hikes in times when voters are not convinced that they are absolutely needed.  If the council would like to have more money available for worthy programs, it should focus on growing the economy, stop adding ongoing miscellaneous spending financed by one-shot revenue sources, redirect cable fund money to purposes that actually benefit the public and restrain some parts of the budget to finance expansions of others.  Doing those things will free up tens of millions of dollars, and maybe more, over time.  But constant talk, and occasional passage, of discretionary tax hikes will only help Ficker place a Prince George’s-style anti-tax doomsday charter amendment on the ballot.  Should such a thing pass, no soda tax will save us.

Hence a warning.  If you give Robin Ficker enough ammo, even he will eventually hit the target.

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