Tag Archives: Council At-Large

Campaign Finance Reports: Council At-Large, January 2018

By Adam Pagnucco.

Now to the swarming Council At-Large race, a fascinating contest with a cast of candidates exceeding the population of several small island nations.  In accordance with our prior post on the Executive candidates, let’s review our methodology.  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, on to the financial presentation.  (We hope this graphic can fit on your screen.)  Two candidates – Brandy Brooks and Darwin Romero – have not filed reports at this writing.

Delegate Charles Barkley (D-39) is a big winner here with the largest cash on hand in the race.  He has used his unique perch as the House’s point man on liquor issues to raise large amounts of money, adding to a war chest he has been accumulating for twenty years.  But the last time Barkley had a competitive election, Facebook did not exist and black and white mailers were still in use.  This is a big field full of hungry candidates and Barkley needs to do more than raise alcohol money to win.

Council Member Hans Riemer, the only incumbent in the race, continues to excel.  He has the highest amount raised ($219,103) and a low burn rate of 11%.  Add to that his two terms in office, his experience running countywide, his history of influential endorsements and his campaign skills and he looks like a safe bet to return.

Bill Conway has gone from being Diana Conway’s husband to being perhaps the one non-incumbent candidate that his rivals say is most likely to win.  Conway’s total raise ($215,881) is almost equal to Riemer’s and he actually collected more than Riemer from individuals.  The difference is that he has spent a lot more than Riemer by employing a campaign manager from the early days of his candidacy.  But since that campaign manager is former Raskin field staffer Doug Wallick, that was a good decision.  Conway combines a MoCo-targeted message of education, transportation and jobs with a likable personality and a staggering ability to learn quickly.  So far, so good.

The Council At-Large candidates pose for their Class of ’18 picture.

Next come the others who have qualified for public financing, most of whom have done so recently.  Evan Glass ran strong in District 5 last time, knows the county well and has a lot of fans from his service on more advisory boards and task forces than your author can count.  Chris Wilhelm is a progressive teacher who should appeal to his union, the powerhouse MCEA.  Will Jawando is a skilled candidate who would be in the House of Delegates now if it weren’t for Jamie Raskin’s 2014 slate.  Gabe Albornoz combines several networks – party, Leggett supporters and folks who have known him from his day job at the Recreation Department – and is liked by basically everyone who meets him.  A group of nine candidates – Glass, Wilhelm, Jawando, Albornoz, Hoan Dang, Seth Grimes, Shruti Bhatnagar, Mohammed Siddique and Ashwani Jain – are basically clustered together financially.  Danielle Meitiv will be right there too because she is close to qualifying for matching funds.

And then there are the rest.  Look folks – it’s popular to say that there are more than 30 candidates in this race.  But in all truth, the number of viable candidates is at most half that number.  To everyone who filed an affidavit or is not close to qualifying for matching funds: it’s not gonna happen for you, OK?  You’re the gazelle trying to run with a pack of hungry cheetahs.  You need to show some game or don’t show up at candidate forums asking for your ninety seconds of speaking time along with the folks that are busting their rear ends and getting several hundred residents to contribute.

We have a lot of questions about this data, such as: who is giving money?  Which candidates are drawing support from specific parts of the county?  And why aren’t the female candidates doing better?  (Of the top twelve fundraising candidates, only one – Shruti Bhatnagar – is a woman.)  All of that analysis will have to wait as we are done for now.

Next: the district council candidates.

Share

The Floreen Path to At-Large Success

By Adam Pagnucco.

Montgomery County’s At-Large County Council race may be the hardest contest in the county to predict.  That’s because it doesn’t necessarily involve candidates running against each other directly.  It operates more like a political market in which the four candidates who are able to sell their product to the most people win.  That’s why candidates who are completely different from each other – who are selling entirely different things – often finish in the top four together.  Viewed in this way, there are multiple paths to victory available in every at-large election.  One path worth examining for this year is the one taken by four-term incumbent Nancy Floreen.

Floreen, a former Planning Board Member and Mayor of Garrett Park, was first elected as part of Doug Duncan’s End Gridlock slate in 2002.  With four terms in office, she is by far the longest-serving female at-large Council Member since the council’s current structure was established in 1990.  She has enjoyed strong support from the business and real estate communities for her entire tenure in office and has also drawn some labor and progressive backing.  One union that has never endorsed her is MCEA – indeed, she is the only council candidate who has been elected four straight times without the Apple Ballot since MCEA began using it in the 1990s.  Floreen is not known for initiating progressive bills, but she has often voted for them, including the 2008 prevailing wage law, the 2013 and 2017 minimum wage hikes, the 2014 public campaign financing law and the 2015 paid sick leave law.  Despite her reputation for business-friendly positions, Floreen passed three major tax hikes during her two years as Council President and voted for others.  Progressives don’t give her enough credit for her willingness to support new revenue for government.  And so it’s fair to say that she has balanced between the left and the center during her four terms in office.

A Floreen mailer from her first campaign in 2002.  Note how she shows support from two very different County Executives.

The electoral trajectory of Council Member Marc Elrich, who went from losing four straight council races to finishing first at-large two cycles in a row, is well known.  Several candidates have tried to emulate his success over the years but none have matched it.  Floreen’s success is less recognized but still substantial.  Since 2002, she has finished third, fourth, third and second in the Democratic primaries in that order.  Since her first election, she has cut the vote gap between herself and the first-place finisher by more than half.  If she were not covered by term limits and chose to run for reelection, she would be the odds-on favorite to finish first in the next at-large race with Elrich running for Executive.

Below are Floreen’s ranks of finish in the 2006, 2010 and 2014 primaries by state legislative and council district.  Also displayed is her percentage of the vote in 2014.  She enjoyed significant gains in 2014, especially in Upcounty districts where she finished first or second.

Below is the same information displayed by city and town.  In 2014, Floreen became the top vote-getter in most Upcounty areas including Brookeville, Clarksburg, Damascus, Darnestown, Germantown, Laytonsville and Montgomery Village as well as Burtonsville, Gaithersburg, Sandy Spring and Wheaton.  Her vote percentages ranged from 18-22% with the exceptions of Dickerson, Downtown Silver Spring and Takoma Park, areas with local favorites in the race.

Floreen combines schools and jobs in a 2014 mailer.

So what has Floreen been selling in the at-large political market?  She has run as a center-left, business-backed candidate emphasizing economic growth, job creation, schools and social liberalism.  She has also been aided by the fact that in three of her four terms, she was the only female at-large incumbent.  That combination allowed her to pick up lots of votes in relatively moderate Upcounty and Midcounty areas as well as from people who felt the council should have at least one woman who represented the whole county.  Not only has that been a successful strategy, it has been increasingly successful over time.  And it’s not just due to incumbency – during Floreen’s tenure in office, two of her at-large colleagues were defeated and another (George Leventhal) slid from finishing first in 2006 to fourth in the next two cycles.  By 2014, enough voters wanted to buy Floreen’s product that they elevated her above everyone else save Elrich.

There are echoes of Elrich all over the evolving at-large race.  Several candidates are advocating his positions in favor of raising the minimum wage, limiting the influence of corporate money, protecting renters and working to reduce income inequality.  But Floreen’s path to at-large success is a proven winner too.  Will anyone take it?

Share

Greenberger Compares County Council to Washington Redskins

By Adam Pagnucco.

In the most brutal campaign attack of the cycle, former County Council spokesman and current at-large council candidate Neil Greenberger is comparing the council to the Washington Redskins.  Under current owner Dan Snyder, perhaps the most despised franchise owner in pro sports, the team has won just two playoff games in the last nineteen seasons.  They are commonly regarded as the third-most dysfunctional institution in the Washington region after the White House and Congress.  We don’t agree with Greenberger that the council is that bad, but as a Washington Post reporter who covered the Skins in their glory years, Greenberger’s take sure is amusing!  We reprint his blast email below.

From Neil Greenberger

Candidate

Montgomery County Council At-large

Football and Montgomery County Politics

Jan. 10 and Jan. 26

26 years and $26

Why this is all about change – And making a difference

On Jan. 26, 1992, Washington’s professional football team won its last Super Bowl. In the 26 years since, not a lot of good things have happened to that organization. It often doesn’t listen or care what its fans think.

On Jan. 10, 2018, the first campaign financial reporting period will end for candidates seeking Montgomery County political offices. While candidates can accept contributions beyond the first reporting date, with at least 30 people running for the four available at-large seats on the Montgomery County Council, those that collect donations of support early in the campaign will prove to be the strongest contenders for this Super Bowl of elections.

So, what do these two things have in common?

In both Washington professional football and on the Montgomery County Council, there is a great need for better direction, better efficiency, more listening to what the “experts” regard as important and real plans for the future. In one of these cases, you can help: by supporting my candidacy for an at-large seat on the County Council and backing a progressive agenda that helps those in need and improves services while spending money efficiently and not raising property taxes over the next four years.

Those directing Washington’s professional football team do not seem to have a game plan for long-term success. My campaign is based on doing the right things that will make Montgomery County a better place to live for our future generations.

Those directing Washington’s professional football team have some very smart people offering advice on how to improve its situation—but the team leaders have opted to ignore that advice. The result has been years of failure. Over the past year, I have been meeting people throughout Montgomery County and listening to what they want to improve in the County, their neighborhoods and for the long-term future of their children.

Those directing Washington’s professional football team do not seem to have a playlist for the future. In listening to Montgomery residents, I know the priorities for our county must be a public school system that strives to get better for students at all schools around the county—and moves ahead with big and innovative steps, rather than the goal of holding the status quo. We want development that plans for realistic school capacity needs, roads to support the development and parking spaces so all people in the county can enjoy these new projects. And we want things done efficiently, without the spiraling waste of tax dollars that has been the hallmark of our county for the past decade.

Those directing Washington’s professional football team keep going to the same well when it needs more money: raising ticket prices, concession prices and parking prices—without regard to the burden it puts on its supporters. As a former Washington Post reporter and longtime County employee, I know where to find the waste in County government. And by using the county law (approved by voters) that allows one Councilmember to block an increase in property taxes, I will GUARANTEE that property taxes will not increase above the County Charter Limit (basically the annual cost of living) for the next four years.

How can you help?

You may not be able to change the future of Washington’s football team. But you can make a difference in the future of Montgomery County.

To commemorate Washington’s 26th anniversary without a Super Bowl since 1992, I am hoping you will contribute $26 to my campaign for the County Council before January 10, 2018. (Any individual can contribute up to $150, but right now, $26 will be great). It will lead to the changes you tell me you want in Montgomery County. And in this case, you get to call the plays.

Thanks for helping!

Neil

Share

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!

Share

It’s Time for Accountable, Engaged and Strong Leadership

By Hoan Dang, Candidate for Montgomery County Council (At-Large).

Life was not easy for me when I came to this country. I was only eight years old when I fled the Vietnam War with my family.  Our journey to America began with living in refugee camps, and then in a crammed two-bedroom apartment with 18 other family members.  But my parents worked hard to save up, and eventually settled in Bethesda.  At first, I thought anywhere was better than what I had previously experienced. But it soon became clear that Montgomery County was a special place.

What Montgomery County had to offer us was priceless. The county had families like the Kreckes and the Gustafsons, our neighbors who did not hesitate to welcome us and help us adapt to our new life in America. The county had a strong public education system because I had MCPS teachers who invested in my future even though English wasn’t my first language. The county also had unparalleled opportunities for me to volunteer in my community. In the spring of 1979, I joined the Boy Scouts of America, and eventually, I became an Eagle Scout, which was when I first felt empowered to give back to the community that had given so much to me and my family.  These experiences, which had a profound impact on my life, embody the progressive values of Montgomery County.

Since leading my first community service project, I have worked hard to uplift our county’s diverse communities for the past 35 years. My public service brought me to work with many others who had stories similar to mine.  As former President and Board Chair of the Association of Vietnamese Americans (AVA), I led efforts to resettle over 25,000 refugees and immigrants who needed to secure housing, obtain jobs, prepare for U.S. citizenship tests, and apply for services from government agencies. As a product of our great education system myself, I believe in the importance of investing in students, which is why I have served on the board of the George B. Thomas, Sr. Learning Academy for the past 16 years. During my tenure, the Academy’s flagship Saturday school program has academically uplifted over 3,000 students annually at 12 different locations across Montgomery County.

Now, I’m running at-large because I want to ensure that our county remains a safe and welcoming community, with better opportunities for all residents. Montgomery County is a great place to live and work, but we are also facing challenges that demand innovative solutions in local government. The county’s population has almost doubled in the past 40 years, leading to overcrowded schools, horrible traffic congestion, and higher taxes for our residents. With the real threat of shrinking resources from the federal government and a slow-growing economy right here at home, we need a leader on the County Council who has a vision for a better Montgomery County.

My vision for our county is a safe and welcoming community, with a booming economy, excellent schools and a fast transportation system, where residents are empowered to better their lives and the lives of others. To achieve this vision, as your next County Councilmember At-Large, I will focus on three main priorities: jobs, education and transportation – which I refer to as “J-E-T”.

Jobs

We must collaborate with small businesses to ensure they receive the critical services, information, and guidance needed to help them grow and create well-paying jobs here in Montgomery County. Job creation is stagnant in our county with projections of just 1% annual growth over the next decade. To stimulate growth, we must change how our county works with business owners to promote entrepreneurship and create well-paying jobs. We can start by changing how our county departments engage with businesses for inquiries, permits and regulatory compliance. Over 70 percent of Montgomery County businesses ranked their interaction with county government as either “average” or “poor” in a recent survey conducted by the County Executive’s Economic Advisory Group. Montgomery County should be a leader in improving interactions with business by making procedures less complex and easier to understand, so that businesses can grow and employ more people. I support many of the regulations the county has in place to protect the environment, workers and our communities, but we can also improve these regulations to better engage the business community.

We must also do a better job at promoting our county as an ideal place to do business. Here in Montgomery County, we enjoy a high quality of life, great public schools and excellent public amenities. We also have one of the educated and most diverse workforces with a high number of workers who hold college degrees, many of whom speak a second language. All of these attributes are attractive to prospective companies and crucial for our county to succeed in a 21st century economy. We have a great story to tell about Montgomery County, but we need to do a better job of telling it.

Education

Our children need to be prepared for the 21st century workforce. This starts by addressing the overcrowding in schools across the county, by leasing and re-purposing unused commercial space for schools, early childhood education programs, and distance learning.  Several jurisdictions across the country (not to mention the world) have already begun using this model, including Fairfax County in Virginia, which recently completed the conversion of a vacant office building into Bailey’s Upper Elementary School. With an office vacancy rate of over 14 percent in the County, I believe there is great potential for an adaptive reuse of these spaces.

Additionally, we need to make universal pre-k a reality in Montgomery County. Publicly funded pre-k is available to only 25 percent of all 4-year-old children who live in the County. Trends have shown pre-k education has enormous positive impacts on children, especially for those who come from multi-lingual households.

Finally, we need to bring more vocational programs to MCPS to give students more exposure to different career paths such as medical science, construction, and auto repair. Vocational careers are just as vital as careers that require a four-year college degree to our local economy and communities.

Transportation

We need to reduce traffic congestion and increase transportation options by taking a comprehensive and holistic approach to our transportation infrastructure. We need to invest in all transportation modes including trains, buses, roads, bike lanes, sidewalks and everything in-between, including promoting remote work options.

We must also support and invest in transportation models that fit the needs of the individual community. The transportation needs in Clarksburg are not the same as the needs in Bethesda, which is why we must consider all available options to reduce traffic congestion. Studies have shown that every dollar spent on infrastructure boosts the economy by two dollars because such investments encourage more businesses to invest and stimulate economic development.  One of the most basic responsibilities of government is to ensure people get from point A to point B quickly and safely. I will make it a priority to fulfill that responsibility to residents across the county.

For the past decades, Montgomery County has been served well by a progressive and forward-looking County Council. However, many residents still face intractable and difficult problems, which require new perspectives and approaches in local government to address those problems.  I am committed to bring strong, engaged, and accountable leadership to the County Council and work with our communities as an equal partner for change. That’s the kind of leadership I want to bring as your next Montgomery County Councilmember, At-Large, and why I respectfully ask for your support and your vote on June 26, 2018.

Share

Be Careful About Going to an All-District County Council

By Adam Pagnucco.

Recently, MoCo’s political community has been thinking of changing the structure of the County Council.  Since 1990, the council has had four at-large members and five members elected by residents of districts.  One idea is to reduce or eliminate the at-large members and replace them with more district members.  Advocates of that perspective believe the districts are too large, that district members are more responsive than at-large members and that the cost of running at-large enables interest groups to play more in those elections.  We offer no opinion on any of those theories, but prior election history points to one consequence of shifting to an all-district council.

The level of political competition will almost certainly decline.

Why do we believe that will happen?  Consider recent elections.  Below is a chart showing the results of all district council elections since 1998.  Over that period, there have been 28 district council elections, 20 of which featured incumbents.  The incumbents won 17 of 20 races, an 85% win rate.  If the Republican incumbents are omitted, the remaining Democratic incumbents won 14 of 15 elections, a 93% win rate.

If that is not enough to prove the non-competitiveness of these elections, consider just two facts.  First, only one Democratic district incumbent has lost under our current structure, and that happened in 1998.  Second, of the last six contested district races, five saw the incumbent win by more than fifty points.

Meanwhile, the at-large races are much more competitive.  Since the current system was established in 1990, no group of at-large incumbents has ever run unopposed.  Three Democratic incumbents have lost – Blair Ewing (2002), Mike Subin (2006) and Duchy Trachtenberg (2010).  Even in the two elections in which all four incumbents ran for reelection (2010 and 2014), challengers still entered the race and one of them (Hans Riemer in 2010) knocked out an incumbent to win.

This year, those same trends continue unabated.  There are 25 at-large candidates (with more to come) running with three seats open.  Meanwhile, district incumbents Nancy Navarro (D-4) and Tom Hucker (D-5) have no opponents while Craig Rice (D-2) has token opposition in the primary.  Only Sidney Katz (D-3) has a serious challenger.  This disparity persists even in the presence of public financing, which was supposed to promote competition.

What explains this pattern?  After all, district races are theoretically cheaper than at-large races because they have fewer voters.  The reason is that one-seat races against incumbents are very different affairs than at-large contests.  A challenger running against an incumbent for one seat must show that the incumbent has committed a firing offense; otherwise, voters will support the candidate they know better.  These one-seat races can turn nasty as we have seen from recent MoCo Senate elections as well as the bitter fight between Council District 5 incumbent Derick Berlage and challenger Marc Elrich twenty years ago.  At-large races are seldom negative unless slates are formed to compete against each other.  (That hasn’t happened since 2002.)  At-large challenger Hans Riemer ran a model race in his 2010 win, promoting his policy agenda of progressivism and smart growth and never targeting any single incumbent for criticism.  Most candidates don’t have the stomach for negative elections when an open seat is available.  And in six of the last eight at-large races (including next year), at least one seat has been open.

Political competition is extremely valuable.  It should not be discarded lightly.  There may be good reasons to increase the number of districts, but if at-large members are completely eliminated, voters will pay the price with fewer choices and less accountability at election time.

Share

Greenberger Guarantees No Property Tax Hikes

By Adam Pagnucco.

Former County Council spokesman Neil Greenberger, who is running for an at-large seat, has released a campaign video guaranteeing that if he is elected, there will be no property tax hikes in the next term.  Greenberger cites a section of the Montgomery County charter that prevents property tax hikes above the rate of inflation unless all nine Council Members vote to do so.  If only one member votes no, the tax hike would fail.  The nine vote requirement is the result of a ballot question submitted by Robin Ficker which was approved by voters in 2008.

While other at-large candidates have been skeptical of further tax hikes, none of them so far have taken as hard a line against them as Greenberger.

Share

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.

Share

Updated: Preliminary Fundraising Totals in Public Campaign Financing, September 2017

By Adam Pagnucco.

This morning, we posted preliminary fundraising totals for candidates in public financing.  But one of those reports was wrong because of a problem with the State Board of Elections’ processing software.  This post contains updated information.

Shortly after our original post, we received the following communication from Council At-Large candidate Hoan Dang’s campaign.

Hi Adam, this is Jonathon Rowland, campaign manager for Hoan Dang.  Thank you for the article this morning.  I just want to correct the amount stated.  When we filed with the Board of Elections, our report was duplicated because of a glitch in the system giving us double the amount of donations.  We have been in contact with the Board of Elections since Monday to resolve this issue.  The actual amount of donations is 316.

When your author called Rowland for more details, he said that the Dang campaign found the error first and asked the board to correct it.  Board staff acknowledged the mistake and said that they were working with their IT developer to fix it going forward.  No public funds were ever distributed before the Dang campaign caught the mistake.

Including information provided by Dang’s campaign today, here is the updated comparison of the five campaigns who have applied for public financing.

Dang is not the leader in public financing.  George Leventhal, who is running for Executive, is the overall leader in qualifying contributors and receipts.  (Executive candidates get higher match rates than council candidates.)  Among the council candidates, incumbent Hans Riemer leads in qualifying contributors and Bill Conway leads in matching funds.  This should not discount a strong performance by Dang, whose financial numbers are not terribly different from Riemer’s.

Going forward, we hope the state prevents the kinds of mistakes that affected Dang’s campaign.  In the initial glitchy filing, Dang supposedly requested $148,328 in public matching funds.  (Again, the IT glitch was not Dang’s fault.)  In the updated filing, Dang requested $74,144 in public matching funds.  That’s a $74,184 difference.  If Dang had not caught the mistake, could that difference have conceivably been paid out?  There’s no evidence available on that point.  But for the good of public confidence in the county’s public financing system, we hope such a mistake never happens.

On a different issue, we asked what happened to Council Member Marc Elrich’s filing for public matching funds in our original post.  Elrich said he had enough contributors to qualify back in June but has not filed yet.  When asked about it on Leventhal surrogate Saqib Ali’s Facebook page, Elrich said his delay in filing was related to a payment his campaign had made to the county party, which was subsequently ruled to not be in compliance with public financing requirements.  We reprint Elrich’s statement below.

Share

Preliminary Fundraising Totals in Public Campaign Financing, September 2017

By Adam Pagnucco.

Correction: The numbers for Hoan Dang in this post are inaccurate.  For updated numbers on Dang and a response by Marc Elrich, please visit our updated post.

One of the virtues of public campaign financing is the rapid release of financial reports for participating candidates.  That’s right, folks – for this group of candidates, there is no need to wait until January to see fundraising numbers.  That’s because when they qualify for public matching funds and request them from the state, their financial reports are released almost immediately.  This is terrific for all data junkies like your author as well as inquiring minds among the readers!

Below is a summary for the five candidates who have applied to receive matching funds from the state.  Bear in mind the following characteristics of the data.  First, the number of qualifying contributors means the number of contributors who live in Montgomery County.  Non-residents can contribute up to $150 each but the state will not authorize matching funds for them.  Second, the individual contribution amounts are the basis on which the state determines how much in public matching funds will be released.  Third, the date of cash balance is important because it varies depending on when the applications were sent in.  That is unlike the regular reporting dates on which financial positions are summarized at the same time for all candidates.  And fourth, for those candidates who have only filed once (which includes everyone except George Leventhal), the cash balances do not include public funds from the state.  To estimate the cash positions of those candidates, the cash balance should be added to the public matching funds they requested.

What do we make of this?

1.  Let’s start with the obvious: there are a lot of small checks out there!  While many contributors are probably donating to more than one of these five campaigns, it’s not a stretch to say that close to a thousand people will have contributed by some point in the near future.  It’s hard to make comparisons with the past without exquisitely detailed research to back it up (anyone want to pay us for that?) but our hunch is that this is a larger early donor pool than in prior cycles.

2.  The big story here is Council At-Large candidate Hoan Dang.  At-Large Council Members George Leventhal (who is running for Executive) and Hans Riemer (the only incumbent running for reelection) have a combined 22 years of representing the whole county.  But Dang had more in-county contributors than either one of them!  How does that happen?  Dang ran for Delegate in District 19 in 2010.  He was financially competitive, raising $103,418, but he finished fifth out of six candidates.  There was no reason going into this race to believe that Dang would receive more grassroots financial support than Leventhal or Riemer.  But so far, he has.

3.  Dang is not the only story.  Look at first-time candidate Bill Conway, who collected more private funds than Riemer primarily by having a larger average contribution.  In most elections, challengers struggle to be financially competitive with incumbents.  But the early performances of Conway and Dang relative to Riemer suggest that, at least among publicly-financed candidates, some or all of that gap may be closed.  Our hunch is that a group of at-large candidates will all hit the public matching funds cap of $250,000 and therefore have similar budgets heading into mail season.  The big question will then become how those totals compare to what candidates in the traditional system, like Marilyn Balcombe, Charlie Barkley, Ashwani Jain and Cherri Branson, will raise.

4.  Where is Marc Elrich?  The three-term at-large Council Member and Executive candidate announced that he had qualified for matching funds back in June at roughly the same time that Leventhal and Riemer said the same.  Riemer followed up by filing for matching funds and Leventhal did it twice.  Why hasn’t Elrich filed more than two months after his announcement?  One suspects that the bewildering paperwork requirements of public financing are responsible for the delay, but political types are starting to chatter about it.

That’s all for now.  Candidates, keep those reports coming in so your favorite blog has more material for the readers!

Share