The already expensive campaign for Maryland’s 6th District continues to get more so, as telecommunications executive Mark Epstein donated another $1.4 million in recent weeks in an effort to elect his wife, Republican Amie Hoeber, to Congress next month.
The latest campaign finance disclosure reports, filed late Saturday with the Federal Election Commission and covering the third quarter of 2016, show Epstein has now donated a total of $3.8 million to Maryland USA, a so-called Super PAC created more than a year ago to promote Hoeber’s candidacy. Hoeber faces Democratic Rep. John Delaney, who is seeking a third term in the Nov. 8 general election.
Combined with $560,000 that Hoeber—a Potomac-based national security consultant—either donated or loaned to her personal campaign committee prior to July 1, the couple is largely self-funding Hoeber’s bid for the House seat. Total contributions by Epstein and Hoeber from their own pockets approached $4.4 million as of Sept. 30. By comparison, a relatively modest segment of the Hoeber financial effort, about $345,000, has come from outside contributions made by individuals or political committees.
Delaney, who financial disclosure reports show to be one of the five wealthiest members of Congress—with a personal fortune of upwards of $115 million—has yet to put any of his own money into his latest re-election bid, except for a $60,000 loan he made just days after he won a second term in 2014. But, based on past experience, he may well reach into his own pocket before Nov. 8, in what is widely regarded as the state’s only competitive congressional race this year.
Delaney, who resides in the same Potomac neighborhood as Hoeber, funneled nearly $2.4 million in personal funds into the campaign when he first won the seat in 2012. He then spent another $900,000 of his own money late in the 2014 campaign, when he narrowly defeated Republican challenger Dan Bongino. Starting in Potomac and Gaithersburg, the 6th District stretches about 200 miles to the western edge of Maryland’s panhandle; about half of the district’s registered voters reside in Montgomery County, totaling about 225,000.
Hoeber won an eight-way primary in late April to secure the Republican nomination against Delaney. As attention pivoted to the general election, her personal campaign committee, Amie Hoeber for Congress, spent just over $300,000 during the three-month period from July 1 through Sept. 30, according to the latest FEC reports. That’s more than one-third of the $865,000 her campaign committee has reported spending since it was created in the summer of 2015.
Delaney—who won renomination in the April primary against token opposition—spent nearly $440,000 during the third quarter of this year, as he geared up to defend his seat. That’s also roughly one-third of the $1.28 million that his personal campaign committee, Friends of Delaney, has spent during the 2015-2016 campaign cycle.
But it is the pro-Hoeber Super PAC, Maryland USA,that has been the big spender in the contest so far.
Fueled by Epstein’s donations, Maryland USA made almost $960,000 in so-called independent expenditures—primarily in the form of television ads and direct mail—to convince 6th District voters to back Hoeber during the months of July, August, and September. Of this amount, $750,000 was spent on television in the Washington market and elsewhere in the district, which includes part of Frederick County and all of Republican-leaning Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties in western Maryland.
In addition, a little over $175,000 was spent by Maryland USA on direct mail during the third quarter of the year. This does not include another $134,000 spent on such efforts since Oct. 1, according to supplemental reports required by the FEC from independent expenditure groups, for a total of nearly $310,000 on direct mail by Maryland USA since July 1. A Miner Detail, a political blog based in the 6th District that has been supportive of Hoeber, earlier this month ran screen shots of several of Maryland USA’s recent direct mail pieces.
In the year since it was created, Maryland USA has spent more than $2.62 million on independent expenditure efforts to boost Hoeber’s candidacy via digital advertising, as well as TV and direct mail.
Personal campaign committees, such as Friends of Delaney and Amie Hoeber for Congress, are restricted by law from accepting more than $2,700 from any individual during a given election. Only the candidate himself or herself can donate an unlimited amount to a personal campaign committee. But the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United vs. FEC led to the creation of Super PACs, independent expenditure groups in which both individuals and corporations are permitted to donate unlimited funds that seek to promote election or defeat of one or more candidates.
Independent expenditure groups are barred from coordinating with a candidate’s personal campaign committee, and both Hoeber and Epstein have repeatedly said that Epstein plays no role in directing the efforts of Maryland USA after donating the money. But Delaney, in a complaint filed with the FEC last month, contended “incontrovertible facts unmistakably show” that Maryland USA and Hoeber’s personal campaign committee are “coordinating expenditures and structuring their operations to undermine key pillars of the campaign finance architecture.” The FEC has yet to deliver a ruling.
The Delaney campaign committee ran ads on broadcast television in late September and early October, intended to counter about $150,000 in TV advertising purchased by Maryland USA on WRC/Channel 4. Delaney’s latest FEC filing lists a nearly $261,000 payment to the Washington-based consulting firm of SKD Knickerbocker for media buys; that is approximately what the Delaney campaign spent during the late September-early October period for TV ads on all four D.C.-area broadcast stations.
The Cook Political Report, an independent handicapper of House and Senate races across the country, continues to place the District 6 election in the “likely Democratic” category, in part because the heavy voter turnout in presidential years tends to benefit down-ballot Democratic candidates in a blue state such as Maryland. With just three weeks until Election Day, the National Republican Congressional Committee, which has been running TV ads in a number of key House races nationally, has yet to step into the 6th District race with ads for Hoeber.
But the NRCC, the campaign arm of the House Republican majority, did donate $5,000 to the Hoeber campaign, according to the latest FEC report, and appears to have played a role in aiding her committee’s fundraising efforts. Of the $136,000 in outside donations received by Hoeber’s committee during the third quarter of the year, $65,000 came from the campaign committees of incumbent Republicans in Congress or conservative-leaning PACs; House and Senate incumbents not facing a tough re-election are often directed by national party strategists to steer donations to candidates in competitive races.
Hoeber also has been actively supported by popular Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who formally endorsed her in September and hosted a fundraising breakfast for Hoeber in Hagerstown last Thursday, while appearing with her at a series of events in western Maryland during this past weekend. Speculation continues about Delaney as a possible challenger to Hogan in 2018, although Delaney in August declared he had “no plans” to run for governor.
Meanwhile, Maryland USA appears to be tapping into the expertise of the political operative widely credited with engineering Hogan’s upset victory two years ago. Steve Crim, Hogan’s campaign manager and later director of public affairs for the Hogan administration before leaving state government several months ago, was paid $15,000 on Sept. 30 by the pro-Hoeber Super PAC for “general campaign consulting.”
The campaign spending—and overall political—situation in District 6 is a contrast to that of neighboring District 8, which contains a majority of all registered voters in Montgomery County.
The Democratic nominee, state Sen. Jamie Raskin, outraised the Republican nominee, Frederick County attorney Dan Cox, by a 12-1 margin during the third quarter of the year. Raskin took in just under $195,000, a fraction of the $2.36 million he has raised during the entire 2015-2016 election cycle.
Raskin’s victory in the hotly contested April Democratic primary against eight other contenders, including self-funded businessman David Trone, made him the prohibitive favorite to win the seat now held by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the party’s nominee for U.S. Senate. The millions being spent in the battle for Delaney’s seat pales nonetheless before the total of $20 million spent in the 8th District Democratic primary, with more than $13.3 million of that coming from Trone’s personal fortune.
Running an uphill contest against Raskin, Cox took in just $16,500 in contributions from July through September, supplemented by $14,000 he loaned the campaign. He reported total receipts of $61,000 since the start of the campaign, with nearly one-third of that coming out of personal funds.
Raskin reported giving $50,000 to the Maryland Democratic Party and another $40,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the political arm of U.S. House Democrats, in the run-up to the general election. That still left him with almost $275,000 in his campaign treasury as of Sept. 30, 10 times as much as the approximately $27,000 in cash on hand reported by Cox.