A half-dozen contenders in the crowded primary field for County Council at-large have $100,000 or more in their campaign treasuries as the June 26 primary approaches, according to disclosure reports that were due midnight Tuesday at the State Board of Elections. A majority of those six candidates are participants in the county’s new public campaign financing system.
But roughly half of the 33 Democratic at-large contenders—some who tried and failed to qualify for public financing, with others relying only on private contributions—reported no more than $25,000 in their campaign treasuries, with most having far less than that. This will put them at a huge disadvantage in courting voters in the closing weeks of the primary campaign, as their better-funded rivals intensify their online advertising campaigns and begin mailing glossy printed brochures to Democratic households.
The latest campaign disclosure reports cover a four-month period through May 15—six weeks prior to Primary Day, and a month until early voting starts June 14. There are four at-large council nominations at stake, with just one of four incumbents seeking re-election due to the 2016 term limits referendum.
Two at-large council candidates—District 39 Del. Charles Barkley of Germantown and former journalist Evan Glass of Silver Spring—reported having more than $200,000 on hand, with Barkley at $217,800 and Glass at $213,500. They were followed by Hans Riemer of Takoma Park, the only incumbent at-large council member seeking re-election this year, at just under $156,000 in his campaign treasury; retired attorney Bill Conway of Potomac, with $135,100; attorney and former Obama administration official Will Jawando of Silver Spring, $120,900; and Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce President Marilyn Balcombe, $101,000.
Of the latter, only Balcombe and Barkley are raising funds entirely through private donors, while the others have tapped into the county’s public financing system—adopted in late 2014 and in force for the first time during the current election cycle. At-large candidates who agree to limit their fundraising to individual donations of $150 or less can qualify for up to $250,000 per election in public subsidies.
As a result of public funding, Riemer and Conway are likely to see significant increases in their treasuries in the final weeks of the campaign—pending review of their latest requests by state Board of Elections officials.
Along with his required campaign disclosure report, Riemer filed papers saying he had raised sufficient private contributions to qualify for another $66,700 in public funding—which could potentially bring his available campaign treasury to $222,000 in the near future.
That would put him not far behind Glass, currently executive director of the Gandhi Brigade Youth Media. Glass requested an additional $15,800 in public funding based on qualifying private donations—which could boost his cash on hand to more than $229,000.
Not far behind is Conway, who requested another $51,600 in public funds, which could bring his treasury close to $187,000.
Barkley, the candidate with the largest amount in the bank, accumulated that war chest over several years as a veteran member of the Maryland House of Delegates. But, despite a 20-year career in Annapolis, he has never before run countywide, and remains unknown to many outside of his legislative district.
His failure to spend more of his campaign treasury with just weeks left in the council at-large contest has puzzled several of his rivals: In the past four months, he has spent just $16,000. Nearly half of that has been in fees to a Baltimore-based consulting firm, with little spent on voter outreach efforts. During that same period, Barkley raised just $1,550—with a $500 donation from Milwaukee-based Miller Coors; Barkley is the longtime chair of the House of Delegates committee with jurisdiction over alcohol beverage regulation.
In contrast, Balcombe reported pulling in nearly $89,000 in private contributions over the past four months, doubling what she reported raising in her January report that covered most of 2017. Of her latest donations, $15,500 were from political action committees representing real estate and construction interests. Included was a $6,000 donation from the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors, which earlier this month formally endorsed her candidacy.
Three other candidates appear poised to soon have six-figure treasuries, thanks in large measure to public funding: Gabriel Albornoz of Kensington, the director of the county Department of Recreation; federal contractor Hoan Dang of Wheaton; and teacher Chris Wilhelm of Chevy Chase.
Wilhelm reported $83,100 currently in his campaign treasury, which could be significantly boosted by his pending request for an additional $41,300 in public funding. Albornoz, who currently has $93,500 in cash on hand, is requesting another $21,500 in public funds based on recent private donations. Dang, with $64,300 already in the bank, filed saying he has qualified for $37,700 more in public subsidies.
Wilhelm is in an informal alliance with another at-large candidate, Progressive Maryland official Brandy Brooks of Wheaton—with the two of them courting voters from the party’s left wing. Brooks, who received nearly $76,400 in April, had not filed her latest disclosure report by press time Wednesday.
Former Obama administration official Ashwani Jain of Potomac, who is relying exclusively on private donations, reported having $87,000 on hand. After reporting having raised more than $132,000 in the January report, he disclosed another $37,700 in contributions for the four months from January through May—supplemented by a $12,000 loan he made to himself.
Of the $57,000 that Jain’s campaign spent during the latter period, more than one-third—$21,000—went to an Alabama-based polling firm. His is not the only campaign seeking to gauge voter attitudes in a race in which the outcome is anything but clear: the Conway campaign reported spending $12,500 during March and April.
In what advocates will likely tout as a mark of success for the public funding program, several more candidates—while short of having six-figure treasuries—reported enough to put them in a position to be competitive in the remaining weeks of the campaign.
Board of Education member Jill Ortman-Fouse—who entered the council at-large race four days before the filing deadline, after dropping out of a re-election bid to the school board—reported nearly $97,200 on hand. She has received $79,000 in public funding and $27,800 in private donations, for a $106,800 total. She reported spending less than $9,000 of that so far, apparently opting to marshal her resources until the closing weeks of the campaign.
Following is a breakdown of what other candidates who have qualified for the public finance system have taken in from both public funding and private contributions, pending approval of their latest requests for additional public funds:
- Glass: $217,000 in public funding and $73,700 in private donations, for a total of $290,700 raised.
- Jawando: $166,900 in public funds and $80,600 in private contributions for a $247,500 total.
- Riemer: $163,800 in public funding and $81,700 in private donations, totaling $245,500.
- Conway: $140,500 in public funds and $85,500 in private contributions, for a total of $226,000.
- Dang: $125,700 in public funding and $65,700 in private donations, for a $191,400 total.
- Albornoz: $123,700 in public funds and $57,300 in private contributions, totaling $181,000.
- Wilhelm: $95,200 in public funding and $46,800 in private donations, for a $142,000 total.
Danielle Meitiv, a science consultant from Silver Spring: $98,300 in public funds and $35,900 in private contributions, for a $134,200 total. Meitiv reported $81,200 on hand as of last week.
Seth Grimes, a former Takoma Park city council member: $89,500 in public funding and $30,500 in private donations, for a $120,000 total, with $74,250 in his campaign treasury.
Mohammad Siddique, a retired engineer from Montgomery Village: $75,700 in public funds and $25,700 in private donations, for a $101,400 total, with $88,500 remaining in his campaign account.
One other candidate, travel service owner Lorna Phillips Forde of Germantown, filed for public funding last week—just prior to the qualifying deadline, which is 45 days prior to the June primary. Forde reported raising $21,300, but it was unclear from her filing how much in public funds she is requesting. At press time, she had not filed the follow-up report that was due at midnight Tuesday.
Of 17 other Democratic candidates in the race, three have yet to file reports for the four-month period ending last Tuesday. Among the remaining 14, former District 5 council member Cherri Branson of Silver Spring—now director of the Montgomery County Office of Procurement—reported $25,200 on hand, largely due to $24,000 in personal loans she made to the campaign.
Branson, who opted to rely on private donations, reported that she has raised only $7,300 in outside contributions since the start of the campaign.
Accountant Michelle Riley of Silver Spring reported $23,000 on hand, thanks to $24,100 in donations and a $6,000 personal loan. Riley is among four Democratic candidates who sought to tap into the public finance system, but were disqualified earlier this year—the result of a provision in the law that eliminates those who file incorrect applications and fail to fix the errors within a 10-day period.
None of the other remaining candidates reported more than $17,000 in the bank, with most reporting just a few thousand dollars in fundraising and expenditures—and several filing affidavits that they had raised or spent less than $1,000 in the course of the campaign.