By Adam Pagnucco.
Several astute readers noticed something interesting about last week’s post on Council Member Will Jawando’s fundraising email – it led to a website allowing contributions up to $2,500. Here is what the donation page looks like.
It’s perfectly legal for Maryland candidates for state and county office to collect contributions that large, so why is this interesting? The answer is that Jawando used public campaign financing two years ago, and that permits individual contributions up to a $150 maximum. On June 23 of this year, Jawando established a traditional campaign account listing himself as chair, his wife as treasurer and his council chief of staff as campaign manager. This account allows him to accept contributions from individuals, business entities, unions and other political committees (like PACs) of up to $6,000 each per cycle. Because it’s a traditional account, its contributions are ineligible for county matching funds under MoCo’s public financing program.
Two years ago, Jawando was hugely successful in public financing. He raised a total of $422,571 for both the primary and the general elections, including $304,084 in matching taxpayer funds. Both of those figures easily led the field of council at-large candidates in 2018. In the Democratic primary, Jawando finished second behind the race’s sole incumbent, Hans Riemer, in the race for four at-large seats. Jawando finished first in Legislative District 20 (where he ran a strong but unsuccessful campaign for delegate in 2014), first in Council District 5 (which overlaps with District 20) and first in Takoma Park, Downtown Silver Spring, Glenmont/Norbeck and the Silver Spring East County zip codes (20903, 20904 and 20905). He also finished first in majority-minority precincts and in precincts where African Americans comprised at least 25% of the population.
So if he was so successful in public financing, why switch to traditional financing? Traditional accounts offer numerous advantages to those who use them, including access to PAC and union money (both in-state and out-of-state), contribution limits of $6,000 and unlimited self-funding. (Public financing accounts limit self-funding to $12,000.) Best of all, traditional accounts can be deployed to any state or county race in Maryland. Jawando can raise money for this account, survey his opportunities and then use it to run for county executive, governor, lieutenant governor or for reelection to his current seat. In contrast, public financing candidates are limited to county office and must declare which office they are seeking because executive, council at-large and district council races have different matching funds formulas and thresholds. Traditional accounts are the way to go for a candidate keeping his or her options open.
Is Jawando going to pay a price for eschewing public financing? The answer is a big fat NO. District 5 Council Member Tom Hucker used traditional financing in his 2018 election and blew out a rival who used public financing. Ben Shnider attracted huge progressive institutional support in his unsuccessful 2018 challenge to District 3 Council Member Sidney Katz despite using traditional financing. (Katz used public financing.) District 2 Council Member Craig Rice and District 1 open seat candidate Andrew Friedson both used traditional financing and won. On top of all of this, Jawando’s record on the council is unquestionably progressive as he has been a key leader on police reform and civil rights. However one feels about public financing, it’s hard to argue that Jawando doesn’t deserve progressive support – an argument that applies equally well to Hucker.
Jawando’s decision to use traditional financing is one of the most interesting developments in the embryonic 2022 campaign. He has always been a complete package as a candidate, combining good looks, excellent speaking skills, charisma, a knack for getting press, affiliation with Barack Obama (his former employer) and work ethic – and now he has a progressive record in office. How high could he go and when? That question is now on the minds of LOTS of people in MoCo politics.