District 8 congressional candidates (from left to right) David Trone, Kathleen Matthews and Jamie Raskin Credit: Photos via Facebook

Fueled by a self-funded campaign by Total Wine & More co-owner David Trone of Potomac that already has exceeded $9 million, total spending in the District 8 Democratic primary race now stands at more than $13.7 million—putting it in play for this year’s costliest House race nationally.

With the primary looming April 26, disclosure reports filed with the Federal Election Commission late Thursday—and covering the period from Jan. 1 through April 6—show the other two leading candidates in the Democratic contest, former Marriott International executive Kathleen Matthews of Chevy Chase and state Sen. Jamie Raskin of Takoma Park, have together added another $3.4 million in spending to the contest since announcing their candidacies in the spring of 2015.

Five other candidates in the race who are regarded as underdogs—state Dels. Kumar Barve of Rockville and Ana Sol Gutierrez of Chevy Chase, former Obama administration officials Will Jawando of Silver Spring and Joel Rubin of Chevy Chase, and David Anderson of Potomac, who runs a Washington-based internship and seminar program—have spent a total of another $1.3 million during the campaign. The disclosure report of the remaining candidate, former biotech industry official Dan Bolling of Bethesda, was not available on the FEC’s Web site as of Friday morning.   

According to data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, the most expensive competitive House race in the 2013-2014 election cycle was an open seat contest in New Jersey’s 3rd District, located in the Philadelphia suburbs. That contest, which also featured a self-funding candidate who gave several million dollars to his campaign, came in at a final cost of $11.26 million. Even before the primary is held, this year’s District 8 contest has surpassed that total.  

Matthews—who has been advertising on television since early February, shortly after Trone’s surprise entry into the race—reported spending $1.73 million during the first quarter of this year, bringing her total expenditures to $2.15 million since entering the contest. Confirming what had been suspected by several rival camps in recent weeks, Matthews disclosed Thursday that she has made personal contributions of $500,000 to her campaign.

“We’ve been incredibly successful,” Matthews said of her fundraising—which took in nearly $503,000 in the first three months of this year, the fourth consecutive quarter in which she has raised $500,000 or more. “But when one of our opponents decided to spend record-breaking amounts, I believed I had a responsibility to my generous supporters to ensure we had the resources to run a winning campaign. As a result, I decided to match this quarter’s contributions with a personal donation of $500,000.”

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Matthews’ donation is actually listed in her FEC report as two loans of $250,000 apiece—one made in mid-March, the other in early April. Generally, a candidate’s ability to recoup such loans is tied to whether the candidate can win the election, thereby allowing for additional fundraising in future campaigns.

Raskin, with donations of more than $560,000, outraised Matthews for the first quarter of this year, and now has taken in nearly $1.86 million in the year he has been running. Overall, that puts him about $200,000 behind Matthews, who has raised a total of $2.07 million since announcing her candidacy last June.

But Raskin had more in his campaign treasury going into the last three weeks of the primary: He reported almost $625,000 in cash on hand, as compared to a little less than $425,000 for Matthews. Raskin spent about $800,000 in the first quarter of 2016, less than half of that reported by Matthews for the same period; he has spent a total of $1.23 million in the course of the campaign. (Raskin has not loaned his campaign any money, but made a donation of $2,700—the maximum amount that outside individual contributors are allowed to give to a congressional candidate.)

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Trone, in his first report to the FEC since entering the Democratic primary contest to succeed Rep. Chris Van Hollen in late January, contributed nearly $9.97 million of his personal fortune to his campaign, with expenditures to date of more than $9 million—leaving him with almost $950,000 in cash on hand. That doesn’t preclude him from writing additional checks to add to what he has in the bank.

Trone is now officially in second place on the list of top self-funders in a House race, surpassing Democrat Jim Humphreys, who spent nearly $7.8 million in 2002 in an unsuccessful bid for a West Virginia House seat. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the top self-funder ever was Democrat Phil Maloof, who spent almost $12.65 million in 1998 in losing a special election and a general election for the same New Mexico House seat during a six-month period.

While limited in its specifics, a 305-page filing by Trone with the FEC just before midnight Thursday does provide some insights into how he is spending his massive campaign treasury.

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The majority of what had been spent through April 6, about $5.9 million, went to Trone’s media buyer, Washington-based GMMB, to purchase what is simply listed as “media advertising.” The filing does not break down this total among broadcast, cable TV and radio advertising, and it is unclear how much of this funding went to an extensive digital advertising campaign Trone has conducted. New York-based Siegel Strategies, which has produced Trone’s barrage of TV ads, has been paid at least $250,000 for its work, the report indicated.

In addition, Trone disclosed he has so far paid more than $800,000 to the San Francisco-based firm of Ambrosino, Muir, Hansen and Crounse for an extensive direct mail campaign that has sent more than 20 pieces of mail into some District 8 Democratic households. One of the partners in the firm, Jim Crounse, is credited in Democratic circles for helping Bill de Blasio win an upset victory in the New York City mayoral contest in 2013.

While he didn’t announce until a week prior to the Feb. 3 filing deadline, the report confirms Trone was actively exploring a bid for Congress last summer. His report shows sizable payments in 2015, some dating back to August, to his pollster, Chevy Chase-based Harrison Hickman, and to InVeritas, a Little Rock, Arkansas-based research and consulting firm.   

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Trone also has hired a large campaign office and field staff: His filing indicates salary payments to 40 separate staffers for all or part of the first three months of 2016. That’s more than three times the size of the campaign staffs of either Matthews or Raskin, each of whom show payments to about a dozen office- and field-based operatives.

Matthews made payments of just under $1.2 million to her campaign consultant, Washington-based SDK Knickerbocker, for ad production and the purchase of TV ad time. In addition, she reported just over $150,000 in printing costs, presumably in conjunction with several direct mail pieces that her campaign has sent out. This is in addition to a $250,000 independent expenditure effort being conducted on behalf of Matthews by a so-called “Super PAC” affiliated with EMILY’s List, which has spent nearly $200,000 of this total on a half-dozen mail pieces promoting Matthews’ candidacy.

According to his filings, Raskin has spent nearly $215,000 on direct mailings. Relying heavily on a network of local party activists for support of his candidacy, Raskin waited until late March to launch a TV ad campaign—and had spent about $360,000 on air time by last week’s cutoff date of the FEC filing.

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Of the other candidates who have aired TV ads to date, Barve—who began airing broadcast ads a little more than a week ago—in late March committed $195,000 for a media buy, according to his filing. That’s a large majority of the almost $295,000 he spent during the first quarter of the year.

A long-time leader of the General Assembly who was regarded as a top-tier candidate when he entered the contest 13 months ago, Barve has struggled over the past year to raise money to keep him competitive with the leading candidates in the contest. He raised just over $70,000 during the first three months of 2016, and had only $64,000 in the bank going into the final weeks of the primary campaign—barely 10 percent of the amount in Raskin’s campaign treasury.

Barve was outraised during the most recent reporting period by Jawando, who took in $125,000, and Rubin, who garnered $105,000 in contributions. Jawando, who reported spending about $110,000 on a cable TV ad buy that his campaign launched late last month, had just $79,000 on hand going into the final weeks.

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Rubin, whose campaign appears to be relying in large measure on a digital ad campaign and a half-dozen paid staffers for outreach, reported only $49,000 in cash on hand as of last week. But he’s also been boosted by a Super PAC, underwritten by an old friend from his hometown of Pittsburgh, which so far has spent $37,000 on digital ads to promote Rubin’s candidacy—and appears to have at least another $60,000 left in its treasury.