Tag Archives: campaign finance

Public Financing Geography, Part Five

By Adam Pagnucco.

We conclude with the remaining five Council At-Large candidates who have qualified for matching funds in public financing.

Chris Wilhelm

Wilhelm, an MCPS teacher, is becoming a progressive darling of the Council At-Large race with endorsements from MCEA, the Laborers, Progressive Maryland and the Democratic Socialists.  His contributions are heavily tilted towards the very liberal areas of Downtown Silver Spring and Takoma Park.  The question for Wilhelm is whether he can hang with the other strong competitors going for those same votes, especially Hans Riemer, Evan Glass, Will Jawando, Danielle Meitiv and Seth Grimes and find a way to break into the top four.  Wilhelm is a smart and passionate campaigner so don’t count him out.

Will Jawando

Jawando is the leading fundraiser in Silver Spring East County, which we define as zip codes 20903, 20904 and 20905.  This area overlaps with the section of District 20 in which he performed best in his 2014 race for Delegate.  Jawando has put together a long list of institutional endorsements that exceeds even the race’s sole incumbent, Hans Riemer, and includes the Apple Ballot.  (He was also endorsed by the Laborers Union shortly after we published the latest list.)  Now Jawando has to raise enough money to get the word out and finish the job.  If he does, he will become just the second Council Member of color to win an At-Large seat after Ike Leggett left in 2002.

Danielle Meitiv

Meitiv, the famous Free Range Mom, is so far the only female at-large candidate who has qualified for public matching funds.  (Shruti Bhatnagar came close but has been ruled ineligible by the State Board of Elections.  Brandy Brooks says she has enough contributions to qualify but has not yet filed with the state.)  Meitiv’s contribution geography resembles the all-candidate average and is largely based in the Democratic Crescent that is so critical to winning countywide elections.  If she continues to raise money, her status as one of the few competitive at-large women will help her in a primary electorate that is nearly 60% female.

Mohammad Siddique

The good news is that Siddique is the second-leading fundraiser in Gaithersburg ($5,515) after George Leventhal ($6,808).  The bad news is that he has a minimal presence in Democratic Crescent areas like Chevy Chase, Downtown Silver Spring and Takoma Park that are critical to countywide performance.

Seth Grimes

Grimes, a former Takoma Park City Council Member, has collected a majority of his contributions from the city with relatively little money coming from elsewhere in the county.  Takoma Park is not a big enough base from which to win a countywide election by itself.  Grimes needs to pick it up elsewhere to have a chance for victory.


Public Financing Geography, Part Four

By Adam Pagnucco.

Let’s start looking at the Council At-Large candidates who have qualified for public matching funds.

Hans Riemer

Riemer, who is finishing his second term, is the only incumbent in the at-large race.  His contributions are heavily based in Downtown Silver Spring and Bethesda, the twin poles of Democratic Downcounty politics.  He is weaker in places like Rockville and Upcounty.  Riemer’s fundraising reflects his smart growth, urban-focused brand and fits the Democratic Crescent nicely.  Our hunch is that he will finish first in both Bethesda and Silver Spring en route to his third term in office.  (Disclosure: the author was once employed by Riemer.)

Bill Conway

Here is an amazing fact: in a public financing system that includes multi-term incumbents like Riemer, Marc Elrich and George Leventhal, first-time candidate Bill Conway is the number one fundraiser in both Potomac and Chevy Chase.  He has also done well in Bethesda.  Conway could use more exposure in Silver Spring.  If he gets that, he could combine a top two or three performance in Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Potomac with a smattering of votes in other areas and get a ticket to the County Council.

Evan Glass

Second-time candidate Evan Glass, who almost won the District 5 seat four years ago, has a decade-long history of civic leadership in Downtown Silver Spring which is reflected in his fundraising.  Glass has raised almost as much money there ($18,573) as has Marc Elrich ($20,763).  Glass needs to grow his base, with the logical targets being other areas in District 5 like East County Silver Spring, Burtonsville, Takoma Park and Forest Glen as well as western parts of the Crescent.  As it is, he has a good shot to win.

Hoan Dang

Dang is also a second-time candidate, having finished fifth of six candidates in the 2010 District 19 Delegate race despite doing a good job in fundraising.  Dang has done pretty well in public financing but he is not dominating anywhere and has not shown a lot of strength in the Crescent.  He could use some institutional backing and more support in places like Bethesda and Downtown Silver Spring to increase his chances of victory.

Gabe Albornoz

County Recreation Department Director Gabe Albornoz is by far the leading fundraiser in Kensington, where he has a large base of family and friends.  Other than that, he is not among the fundraising leaders in any of the county’s Democratic strongholds.  Albornoz has three useful networks: his professional network from his day job, the contacts he has accumulated during his service on the county’s Democratic Central Committee and the supporters of County Executive Ike Leggett, who has endorsed him.  Albornoz needs to continue to monetize those networks and get a couple key endorsements, like the Washington Post.  If he can do that, he has a path to victory.

We will finish looking at the Council At-Large qualifiers tomorrow.


Public Financing Geography, Part Three

By Adam Pagnucco.

It’s time to start looking at the geography of in-county contributions for the thirteen candidates who have so far qualified for public matching funds: County Executive candidates Marc Elrich, Rose Krasnow and George Leventhal and Council At-Large candidates Gabe Albornoz, Bill Conway, Hoan Dang, Evan Glass, Seth Grimes, Will Jawando, Danielle Meitiv, Hans Riemer, Mohammad Siddique and Chris Wilhelm.  While all participate in the same system, there are immense differences between them in where they are raising money.

First, an overview.

Long-time Council Members Marc Elrich and George Leventhal lead in public financing fundraising.  But former Rockville Mayor and Planning Department staffer Rose Krasnow is closing on them.  Krasnow qualified for matching funds in 109 days, far faster than Elrich (209 days) and Leventhal (278 days).  All three lead the Council At-Large candidates in total raised primarily because of the higher public matching rate for Executive candidates.  Riemer, Conway and Glass lead the council candidates while Meitiv, Siddique and Grimes trail.  The fact that some candidates last reported two months ago while others reported within the last few weeks will affect this data somewhat.  Including the traditionally funded candidates, Roger Berliner so far leads the Executive candidates while Delegate Charles Barkley is one of the Council At-Large leaders and Ashwani Jain is competitive.

Here’s an important thing to note about public financing: it’s not just about money.  It’s also a cornerstone for a field program.  The same folks who show up at campaign events and bring small checks are the people who can be tapped for neighbor-to-neighbor letters, canvassing, phone banking, lit drops and poll coverage.  The total amount raised is a useful proxy for the number of ardent supporters, so money raised in a local area may be a possible, partial precursor to actual electoral performance.

Now to the three Executive candidates.

Marc Elrich

Elrich is the number one fundraiser in Downtown Silver Spring, Olney and Takoma Park, the latter by a mile.  His contributions have been heavily concentrated in the Democratic Crescent, which accounts for 53% of all in-county contributions and 68% of in-county contributions to Elrich.  This resembles the Downcounty support for Jamie Raskin in his 2016 race for Congress.  That distribution along with Elrich’s number one finish in the last two at-large elections and his many progressive endorsements makes him the front runner in the eyes of most observers.

George Leventhal

Leventhal, a former Chair of the county Democratic Party, has leveraged his more than twenty years in county politics to assemble the most geographically diverse contribution distribution of the Executive candidates.  He is the number one fundraiser in Bethesda, Gaithersburg, Germantown and Montgomery Village.  Leventhal leads Elrich in Upcounty but trails him by a lot in the Democratic Crescent.  Can Leventhal pull enough votes from Midcounty and Upcounty to overwhelm Elrich’s strength in Silver Spring and Takoma Park and break through?

Rose Krasnow

Krasnow was an elected official in Rockville between 1991 and 2001 and she is crushing both Elrich and Leventhal in money raised from the city.  On the other hand, she trails them badly in the Democratic Crescent.  Krasnow is off to a fast start in public financing but she needs more exposure in Downcounty areas like Downtown Silver Spring, Bethesda and Chevy Chase.  Elrich and Leventhal have been working those places for years and time is getting short.

Next, we will start looking at the Council At-Large candidates.

Disclosure: the author is a publicly-listed supporter of Berliner for Executive.


Public Financing Geography, Part Two

By Adam Pagnucco.

As we stated in Part One, we have examined nearly 9,000 records of contributions to thirteen countywide candidates in the public financing system who have qualified for matching funds: County Executive candidates Marc Elrich, Rose Krasnow and George Leventhal and Council At-Large candidates Gabe Albornoz, Bill Conway, Hoan Dang, Evan Glass, Seth Grimes, Will Jawando, Danielle Meitiv, Hans Riemer, Mohammad Siddique and Chris Wilhelm.  Today we begin to answer the question of where individual contributions in the public financing system are coming from.

First, let’s tally the aggregate sums collected by all thirteen candidates.

The largest source of money in the public system is public matching funds, which outnumbers private contributions by more than two to one.  But that understates the magnitude of matching funds because the contribution records do not include public funds requested but not yet disbursed.  We will examine that issue when we begin discussing individual candidates in Part Three.  One note: while candidates may not take corporate contributions, their accounts may accept vendor refunds, deposit returns and bank interest.  That accounts for the tiny amount in the “other” category.

Now let’s look at in-county contributions by local area.

Urban centers that are also Democratic strongholds tend to dominate here, especially Downtown Silver Spring and Bethesda.  We have previously identified an area we call “the Democratic Crescent” including Takoma Park, Downtown Silver Spring, Kensington, Chevy Chase, Bethesda and Cabin John that accounts for 23% of the county’s population, 29% of its registered Democrats and 37% of its Super Democrats (those who voted in each of the last three mid-term primaries).  That area accounts for 53% of in-county contributions in the public financing system.

Below we compare in-county contributions to population by local area.

Relative to their population, Downtown Silver Spring, Bethesda, Takoma Park, Potomac and Chevy Chase are over-represented in terms of in-county contributions.  Gaithersburg, Germantown, Glenmont-Norbeck (zip code 20906) and Silver Spring East County (zip codes 20903, 20904 and 20905) are under-represented.  The Democratic Crescent accounts for 23% of the county’s population but 53% of in-county contributions.  Upcounty, an area we define as including Ashton, Boyds, Brookeville, Clarksburg, Damascus, Dickerson, Gaithersburg, Germantown, Montgomery Village, Olney, Poolesville and Sandy Spring, accounts for 34% of the county’s population but just 13% of in-county contributions.

Here’s another way to look at the same data: in-county contribution dollars per resident.

Seven communities contributed one dollar or more per resident to publicly financed candidates: Takoma Park, Chevy Chase, Dickerson, Downtown Silver Spring, Kensington, Potomac and Bethesda.  Except for Dickerson and Potomac, all of these areas are in the Democratic Crescent.  Seven communities contributed less than 25 cents per resident: Burtonsville, Gaithersburg, Glenmont-Norbeck, Clarksburg, Montgomery Village, Germantown and Damascus.  The average contribution per resident in the Democratic Crescent was $1.26.  In Upcounty, it was 21 cents.

Finally, we compare in-county contributions to the distribution of Super Democrats.

The distribution of in-county contributions is a much closer match for Super Democrats than for the broader population.  But Super Dem-intensive areas are even more influential among contributors.  The Democratic Crescent accounts for 37% of Super Dems and 53% of in-county contributions.  Upcounty accounts for 20% of Super Dems and 13% of in-county contributions.  Downtown Silver Spring and Takoma Park are over-represented here even when factoring in how many Super Dems they have, while Glenmont-Norbeck, Silver Spring East County and Rockville are under-represented.

The bottom line is that public financing is amplifying the influence of heavily Democratic Downcounty areas above and beyond patterns of residency and voting.  That influence comes at the expense of Upcounty areas like Gaithersburg, Germantown, Clarksburg, Damascus and the smaller communities close to the Frederick and Howard County borders.  If corporate money and PAC money are thought to have outsize impacts on the actions of county government in the traditional system, then one wonders if the Downcounty dominance that some Upcounty residents complain about will be even more pronounced due to public financing.

In Part Three, we will begin examining specific candidates.


Public Financing Geography, Part One

By Adam Pagnucco.

This year’s election cycle is the first one in which public financing is being used in MoCo’s county-level races.  That is one of many reasons why this election is historic in nature.  So far, we know the following things about public financing: it is heavily used (especially in the Council At-Large race), it is administratively challenging, it requires a long time to raise money, it is less costly than first thought and while it creates opportunities for new candidates, it confers huge benefits on incumbents.  Also, as predicted, the system reduces the influence of corporate interests and PACs.  But who is stepping into that vacuum?

This week, we will explore where contributions to publicly financed candidates come from.  Participation in the system is optional; candidates can stay in the traditional system and many of them have done so.  Candidates in the public system may only accept contributions from individuals up to $150.  They cannot take money from corporate entities or PACs and must limit self-financing to $12,000.  Contributions from in-county residents are matched by the county on a sliding scale.  For Executive candidates, a $150 in-county contribution gets a county match of $600.  For council candidates, a $150 in-county contribution gets a county match of $450.  Candidates must meet thresholds of in-county money raised and numbers of in-county contributors to qualify for matching funds and are subject to caps of public fund receipts.  And if a candidate applies for matching funds and does not meet the thresholds, that person can be ruled ineligible for matching funds.

To examine the origins of contributions in public financing, we accumulated the contribution records of thirteen candidates who have qualified for matching funds: County Executive candidates Marc Elrich, Rose Krasnow and George Leventhal and Council At-Large candidates Gabe Albornoz, Bill Conway, Hoan Dang, Evan Glass, Seth Grimes, Will Jawando, Danielle Meitiv, Hans Riemer, Mohammad Siddique and Chris Wilhelm.  We did not include contributions to district-level candidates like Sidney Katz, Nancy Navarro and Reggie Oldak because their receipts will inevitably be skewed to their districts, thereby introducing a geographic bias into the data.  We also did not include contributions to non-qualifiers because they may not ultimately receive matching funds.  One important consideration with examining these accounts is that not all of them have last filed on the same dates.  While some were current as of the last regular report in January, others have filed as recently as last week.  That’s because once a candidate qualifies for matching funds, they can apply for new distributions at any time through fifteen days after the general election.  One important constraint for late starters: candidates in the system must qualify for matching funds by 45 days before the primary.  Since the date of this year’s primary is June 26, that means the qualifying period ends on May 12.

This analysis involved an examination of nearly 9,000 records.  We asked two sets of questions.  First, where are in-county contributions eligible for matching funds coming from and how do they compare with both the population and regular Democratic voters?  Second, what are the differences in contribution geography between participating candidates?  Those differences contain illuminating clues to the appeal and strategy of the candidates which could ultimately decide the election.

We will begin unveiling our results in Part Two.


Backlash Builds Against Baker Endorsement of Trone

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker is experiencing a rapid backlash against his endorsement of wealthy businessman David Trone in his bid for the Democratic nomination for the Sixth Congressional District.

Baker announced his support for Trone two days ago. Today, the Washington Post reported that Trone, his family members and company have donated a total of $39,000 to Baker’s gubernatorial campaign. My own quick scan of Rushern Baker’s latest campaign finance filing revealed the following donations:

David Trone, $6000, 10/5/17;
Julia Trone, $2000, 11/16/17;
June Trone, $6000, 10/5/17;
Michelle Trone, $6000, 11/5/17;
Natalie Trone, $2000, 11/16/17;
Natalie Trone, $3000, 11/16/17;
Robert Trone, $2000, 11/16/17;
Anna-Marie Parisi-Trone, $6000, 11/16/17;
Anna-Marie Parisi-Trone, $6000, 11/16/17.

While David, June, and Robert Trone are described as affiliated with Total Wine, Natalie Trone is listed as a student and Michelle Trone with The Boston Consulting Group (BCG). All of the donations were made in October or November of last year.

Problems for Baker

There is certainly no proof of pay-to-play or corruption. Indeed, Baker has been a welcome breath of fresh air on that front in Prince George’s after the disastrous Johnson years. However, Baker’s decision to endorse in a race outside of Prince George’s has raised eyebrows.

In particular, I heard that senior women in the General Assembly are especially annoyed at Baker’s decision to endorse in the race when there was an experienced, talented and respected female legislator, Del. Aruna Miller, in the race. Baker’s wading into the race surprised many, as the Sixth does not overlap with Prince George’s.

Today, that frustration emerged more publicly in the form of a wave of endorsements of Miller’s campaign by her colleagues, especially many senior women. Miller’s campaign issued a press release (see below) touting support from:

Speaker Michael Busch,
Speaker Pro Tem Adrienne Jones,
Chair Emerita Sheila Hixson,
Appropriations Committee Chair Maggie McIntosh,
Environment and Transportation Committee Chair Kumar Barve, Ways and Means Committee Chair Anne Kaiser,
Health and Government Committee Chair Shane Pendergrass, Judiciary Committee Chair Joe Vallario,
Judiciary Committee Vice-Chair Kathleen Dumais,
Appropriations Committee Vice-Chair Tawanna Gaines,
Women’s Caucus Chair Ariana Kelly

It will be interesting to see if this backlash impedes Baker’s efforts to reach further outside the County. Similarly, I’m curious to see if Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, a strong Baker supporter, endorses a candidate in the Sixth District. Unlike Baker, Leggett has long had constituents in the Sixth.

Problems for Trone

Baker’s endorsement has also revived talk of Trone’s use of his wealth. Two years ago, Trone told the press bluntly, “I sign my checks to buy access.” Indeed, former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s lawyers cited this statement in their brief appealing McDonnell’s corruption conviction. County Councilmember George Leventhal also needled Trone regarding his gaffe.

Now, as Michael Kinsley once said, a gaffe is simply when a politician speaks the truth out loud. Trone was forthright and honest on this point, in a manner similar to Donald Trump in presidential bid. But the similarities to Trump and the current concerns regarding the corruption of American politics are hardly likely to endear him to Democratic primary voters.

Aruna Miller for Congress Press Release by David Lublin on Scribd


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!


Raising Money in Public Financing Takes a Long Time

By Adam Pagnucco.

Former Council Member Phil Andrews’s public financing system is in use for the first time during this election cycle.  It has already changed MoCo’s political landscape, with 33 county candidates – a majority of those running – so far enrolled.  It’s a bit early to say exactly how it will impact specific races, but two facts about the system are starting to become clear.

It’s cumbersome to use.  And candidates who use it need a long time to raise money.

We have already written about the burdensome administrative aspects of the system, especially in demonstrating residency of contributors.  (The system only provides matching public funds for in-county individual contributions of up to $150 each.)  An additional difficulty is meeting the thresholds for triggering eligibility for matching funds.  In order to collect matching funds, Executive candidates must receive contributions from 500 in-county residents totaling at least $40,000; at-large council candidates must receive contributions from 250 in-county residents totaling at least $20,000; and district council candidates must receive contributions from 125 in-county residents totaling at least $10,000.

So far, just seven of 33 participating candidates have reached the thresholds for public matching funds.  Council District 1 candidate Reggie Oldak was the fastest to qualify, hitting the threshold in 112 days.  But Oldak is a district candidate, meaning that her threshold is the lowest, and her district is the county’s wealthiest with the greatest concentration of political contributors.  At-large council candidate Hoan Dang hit his threshold in 148 days, barely beating out Bill Conway (155 days).  Council Members Marc Elrich and George Leventhal, who are running for Executive, needed more than 200 days each to qualify despite having large donor bases going back many years.

Then there are the other 26 candidates who have not yet qualified.  Six of them have been running for more than 200 days.  (District 4 incumbent Nancy Navarro will only be eligible to receive matching public funds if she gets an opponent.)  Eleven more have been running for at least 100 days.  Many of the non-qualifiers have been working hard for months.  It’s just tough to meet the thresholds.

Why is it taking so long to get matching funds?  One reason is that Andrews, the system’s architect, did not design the system to be easy.  He explicitly intended that public dollars only go to candidates who were viable in the sense that they had actual grass-roots support.  Another reason is the nature of fundraising itself.  Candidates who raise money turn to families and close friends first; past contributors next (if they have run before); then extended networks of professional connections, acquaintances and supporters’ networks; and finally complete strangers.  As each network gets further away from the candidate, the marginal difficulty of raising dollars increases.  In a public financing context, the first fifty contributions are easier than the next fifty, which in turn are easier than the fifty after that.  The last few contributions to reach the threshold are the hardest to get.

At-large candidate Danielle Meitiv has been working to hit the threshold with a video on Facebook.

Similar observations can be made about traditional fundraising with this exception: the private system has no single trigger that activates a stream of cash all at once.  The candidates in public financing will be weeded into two groups: the ones who get matching funds and the ones who don’t.  The latter group will be doomed to failure.

There’s one more lesson here for candidates: don’t get into a race late and expect to raise lots of money quickly through public financing.  Even if you have a history of donors going back more than a decade like Elrich and Leventhal, the public system is not built for speed.  If you are a late starter, chances are you will need either traditional fundraising or self-financing to close the gap and have a chance to win.


Candidates, Hug Your Treasurer

By Adam Pagnucco.

Political campaigns have all kinds of characters in them.  There are the campaign managers, the best of whom are data nerds, bartenders, therapists and trouble shooters all at once.  Then there are the hard core supporters, always ready to insist that their candidate is the reincarnation of Mandela and eager to pounce on dissenters online.  There are the cross-eyed pundits, tossing out great gobs of bloggy drivel onto an unsuspecting populace.  And of course there are the candidates, their toothy daytime smiles concealing roiling anxiety in the dead of night.

But no one pays attention to the true MVPs of political races: the Treasurers.  Money is the lifeblood of all campaigns and these are the people who control it.  Without a competent Treasurer, a campaign can’t collect its money, pay its bills, file its reports or do much of anything at all.  And the workload is often far greater than anyone, even the candidates themselves, can ever understand.

I was a Treasurer once.  Senator Rich Madaleno asked me to assume that role for the District 18 slate back in 2008.  It was not the first nor the last dumb thing I have done for a politician I like!  The account records (actually, the disorganized piles of random papers) were delivered to me in shoe boxes.  Shortly afterwards, I began receiving notices from the State Board of Elections that the previous report filings were deficient and needed to be corrected.  But the state didn’t say what the flaws were.  Phone calls to the state offices were laughably useless.  So I had to reconstruct every single transaction in the history of the account(!!!!!) and re-file every single report that had ever been sent in.  This required weeks of agony, but dammit, no account with my name on it was going to get fined.  Even bloggers have standards!

Dear future candidates: don’t ever ask me to be a Treasurer again.  I would rather gargle cockroaches.

This year, the normally substantial challenges of being a Treasurer are compounded for a uniquely unfortunate subset of them: the Treasurers responsible for MoCo’s public campaign financing accounts.  The reason is that the state requires evidence of a contributor’s in-county residency before approving public matching funds for that contribution.  That’s easy to do with online contributions: all a campaign has to do is add a couple fields illustrating residency and collecting a digital signature.  But what happens if a dinosaur (like, say, your author) pays with a written check?  Well folks, that’s when the fun begins!

All contributions eligible for matching funds must be accompanied by proof of residency that is provided to the state.  For physical checks or cash, that means the donor must complete and sign a written form indicating residency in Montgomery County.  Somebody (that might be you, Mr. or Ms. Treasurer!) has to make sure that form is filled out and collected.  If a check or cash shows up in the mail, that means tracking down contact information for the contributor and getting hold of them.  “Thank you for contributing to Politician X, ma’am.  Could you fill out and sign this form showing that you live in MoCo and send it back to us?”  “Well, I’m out of stamps and my scanner is busted.”  “I’m out of the country for two weeks.”  “I’ll think about it and get back to you.”  “I just donated to you.  Why are you bugging me?  I want my money back!”  And these are the G-rated responses.

Campaigns love this like they love tarantulas in the shower.  One campaign surrogate says his campaign “absolutely hates it” when they get paper checks because of the time required to chase down donors.  One candidate with prior electoral experience estimates that the time taken to deal with these administrative issues is 40% greater than it is under the old traditional system.  Another candidate simply says, “Oy.  Vey.”  And again, these are the G-rated responses.

Nothing can be done to remedy these issues in the short term.  And let’s remember: the state is within its rights to demand proof of residency to prevent mistaken distributions of public matching funds.  But candidates in public financing must absolutely do one thing.

Hug your Treasurer.  Do it today!  Tell them you love them.  Or it might be YOU who has to chase down those donors!


At-Large Candidate’s Proposal Breaks Campaign Finance Laws

By Adam Pagnucco.

Council At-Large candidate Brandy Brooks, who is participating in MoCo’s public financing system, would like to help natural disaster victims.  That’s a laudable goal.  But she is proposing to spend campaign contributions to do so.  The problem is that’s illegal under state and county campaign finance laws.

On her website and on Facebook, Brooks promotes an initiative that she calls “Power 100,” in which she invites 100 contributors to donate a combined $2,500 to her campaign, half of which would be paid out to a number of charities helping natural disaster victims.  The charities include organizations helping victims of Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, a mudslide in Sierra Leone and floods in South Asia.

Brooks supporter Ed Fischman went a step further in a posting on the Our Revolution in Montgomery County Facebook page, asserting that public matching funds would be used for disaster relief.  To be fair, it’s unclear whether Fischman speaks for Brooks and Brooks has not yet qualified for public matching funds.

State and county campaign finance laws prohibit these kinds of expenditures.  According to the State Board of Elections’ Summary Guide, there must be a nexus between campaign account expenditures and the promotion of a candidate’s campaign for those expenditures to be legal.  The guide specifically addresses charitable contributions, stating:

Generally, campaign funds may not be used solely for charitable purposes. Maryland law requires campaign funds to be used for the purpose of supporting or opposing a candidate, question, or political committee. Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind that contributors give to campaign committees for one important reason – they want to support the committee’s candidate, question, or political party. When campaign funds are spent for a non-campaign related purpose, it frustrates the intent of the contributor.

However, there are instances when a charitable donation is permissible because it is for a campaign purpose. For example, a candidate may permissibly use campaign funds to attend a charitable event since attending the event increases the candidate’s visibility and allows the candidate to network with potential voters and donors.

ง 13-247 of state election law does allow certain kinds of charitable contributions to be made by accounts that are closing and liquidating their assets, a case that clearly does not apply to Brooks.

Additionally, Montgomery County’s public campaign financing law states, “A participating candidate may only use the eligible contributions and the matching public contribution for a primary or general election for expenses incurred for the election.”  This statement is repeated in the county’s summary of the law.  No one could construe helping disaster relief victims as a primary or general election expense.  It’s noteworthy that the county’s language applies not just to public funds but also to individual contributions made under the public financing program.

Your author really hated to write this blog post but it had to be done.  Generally speaking, when we have examined campaign finance issues in the past, we have sometimes seen behavior that may not be ethical but is legal.  This case is the opposite: what Brooks is doing comes from the best of intentions but does not comply with the law.  Brooks is free to discuss the plight of disaster victims all she wants.  She could also organize a private fundraiser for victims separate from her campaign account.  But if she goes ahead and uses her campaign funds for disaster relief contributions, she will risk sanctions from the state, the county or both.