With a boost from the county’s new public campaign finance system, spending by the leading contenders for at-large County Council seats in the June 26 Democratic primary increased significantly from four years ago—when the system was not yet in existence, according to the latest campaign finance reports filed Tuesday with the State Board of Elections.
The three top beneficiaries of public funding—Evan Glass and Will Jawando, both of Silver Spring, and Hans Riemer of Takoma Park—also were the three top vote-getters in the record field of 33 Democrats vying for four council at-large nominations in the June 26 primary. All three raised and spent more than $300,000 in the course of the campaign, with the vast majority of that coming from public campaign finance system.
The winner of the remaining at-large nomination, Gabe Albornoz of Kensington, ran somewhat behind the other three in the competition for dollars. But Albornoz still reported spending more than $200,000, boosted by nearly $170,000 in public funding that he received.
The public finance system itself arguably can be counted among the winners in the recent campaign: Of the top 10 finishers in the Democratic at-large race, eight received public funding (out of a total of 12 candidates who qualified for it). Only two of the top 10 candidates—Marilyn Balcombe of Germantown, who finished fifth, and Ashwani Jain of Potomac, in eighth place—opted to rely exclusively on private donations.
Riemer, the only incumbent in the entire field, finished first with 12.2 percent of the total vote cast. Including the latest data filed Tuesday, Riemer spent $313,000 in winning nomination to a third term, while raising nearly $328,900. Of this, $242,800 was from public funding, just short of the $250,000 maximum for which an at-large council candidate was eligible. Riemer’s public subsidies were leveraged by about $86,100 in small private donations restricted to $150 or less.
When Riemer sought re-election in 2014 drawing only on private contributions, his war chest was considerably less—$188,000—and he spent $233,700 with help from donations raised prior to the 2013-2014 election cycle.
Jawando and Glass—who finished second and third in the June 26 voting with 9.6 percent and 8 percent, respectively—each raised sufficient private donations to receive the $250,000 maximum in public funds. Including more than $103,000 in private contributions, Jawando took in a total of $353,300—all but about $2,000 of it prior to the June 26 primary—and reported spending nearly $347,000. Jawando is an attorney and former Obama administration official: His recent win made him only the second African-American candidate—after retiring County Executive Ike Leggett—to be nominated for countywide office in Montgomery County.
With nearly $87,000 in private donations on top of public funding, Glass’ fundraising totaled about $337,000, supplemented by $7,150 in personal loans to the campaign from himself and his husband, Jason Gedeik. (Glass, a former TV journalist, is poised to become the first openly gay council member.) Glass spent virtually all of what he raised—$343,000—on his victorious primary bid.
In 2014, only one of the four winners—in a more normal Democratic primary field of six at-large council candidates—approached this level of spending.
Seeking a fourth term on the council four years ago, George Leventhal of Takoma Park raised nearly $264,000 and spent more than $289,000 in winning a tough battle for renomination. Leventhal, who is leaving the council because of term limits, unsuccessfully sought the nomination for county executive in this year’s primary, during which he tapped into the new public funding system.
The other two winning Democratic at-large contenders in 2014, Marc Elrich of Takoma Park and Nancy Floreen—who are facing off in this fall’s general election campaign for county executive with Floreen running as an independent—raised and spent considerably less than Leventhal four years ago. Elrich raised just $107,500 in the 2013-2014 cycle, while spending more than $144,000. Floreen raised $173,000 and spent $200,000.
In this year’s money race, the council at-large candidates who relied exclusively on private fundraising also fell short of the top tier of contenders underwritten by public funding.
Balcombe, president of the Gaithersburg/Germantown Chamber of Commerce, garnered 6.3 percent of the total vote, putting her in the next spot behind Albornoz, who finished fourth with 7.4 percent. Balcombe raised $175,400 and spent precisely that amount, reporting nothing remaining in her campaign treasury after repaying a $4,600 personal loan she had made.
Jain, a former Obama administration aide, raised $184,000, supplemented by $47,000 in loans to himself—$35,000 of that coming six days before the primary. He reported spending nearly $228,000.
A third at-large contender who relied heavily on private funding, veteran Del. Charles Barkley of Germantown, reported minimal fundraising during 2018. But Barkley started the year with more than $232,000 in his campaign treasury—accumulated during a 20-year tenure in Annapolis—and spent most of it, leaving him with $33,500 in the bank, according to his latest report. Handicapped by being unknown to many voters outside of his legislative district, he spent little of his war chest early in the campaign, but poured in nearly $185,000 in spending in the closing weeks. He finished 13th in the primary election vote tally.
Albornoz, while being outspent by the other three winning at-large contenders, appeared to benefit from more than a decade of visibility as the county’s recreation director and a two-year stint as chair of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee—as well as some key endorsements. He is expected to become only the third person of Hispanic-American descent to serve on the council.
Albornoz reported raising $65,200 in private donations on top of receiving $169,800 in public funding, for a total of $235,000. He spent nearly $205,000 on the primary campaign.
Albornoz was actually outspent by two other public funding candidates whom he outdistanced on Primary Day: retired attorney Bill Conway of Potomac and federal contractor Hoan Dang of Wheaton. Conway, who finished 10th in the 33-way contest with 3.3 percent of the vote, received close to $220,000 in public funds in addition to collecting about $96,000 in private donations—for a total of $316,000. He reported spending nearly $329,000.
He and his wife, longtime civic activist Diana Conway, also loaned the campaign $12,000—with their latest report showing $8,750 repaid, leaving the campaign treasury empty. Dang, who took ninth place in the primary with 3.8 percent, reported collecting a total of $245,000—including a little more than $175,000 in public funds and $70,000 in private donations. In his latest filing he reported an empty treasury after repaying $2,700 in loans made to the campaign.
If this year’s at-large council campaign saw a jump in spending, there was little apparent change from four years ago in the heavy reliance on direct mail.
Riemer’s latest filing shows $176,500 spent in the final three weeks leading up to the primary, with more than $133,000 of that going to the New York City-based Brown Miller Group for mailing costs. Riemer was not the only top contender who was a Brown Miller client: Jawando’s campaign reported paying Brown Miller about $22,400 in consulting fees, while doling out more than $115,000 to another firm—Mad Dog Mail of Fernandina Beach, Florida—for direct mailing in the homestretch of the primary.
Glass, meanwhile, gave his direct mail work to another firm headquartered a block away from Brown Miller in New York City’s Wall Street section: Berlin Rosen, which also has a Washington office. Glass reported spending about $160,000 with Berlin Rosen for an effort notable for the number of pieces that he sent through mail slots. Best known for its role in Bill de Blasio’s come-from-behind victory in the 2013 New York City mayoral race, Berlin Rosen took in nearly $500,000 in total fees from Montgomery County candidates in 2014.
Albornoz, Glass, Jawando and Riemer enter the general election as overwhelming favorites to sit on the council that will be sworn in this December: Their Republican opponents on the November ballot—Robert Dyer of Bethesda, Chris Fiotes of Gaithersburg, Penny Musser of Boyds, and Shelly Skolnick of Silver Spring—all filed affidavits this week indicating they plan to raise and spend less than $1,000 on their candidacies.
All but Musser also ran for at-large council seats in 2014, losing by a wide margin in a county where the Democrats have a 3-1 registration advantage. (Tim Willard of Kensington is running as the nominee of the Green Party this year after also seeking an at-large seat in 2014.)
Despite their favored status, Albornoz, Glass, Jawando and Riemer are wasting little time tapping into additional public funding: Each are entitled to up to another $250,000 apiece for the general election. Their Republicans opponents did not seek to qualify for public funding by the statutory deadline—45 days prior to the primary election—and are not eligible to receive it during the fall campaign.
In his latest filing, Jawando reported receiving $4,300 in public funding for the general election, and has put in a request for $3,250 more based on recent private donations. The filing shows him with $23,300 in his campaign bank account. Glass, who reported a little more than $2,000 on hand as of last week, has requested $10,500 in public funds for the general election. Riemer reported $15,700 in his campaign treasury, and has asked for $2,100 so far in public funds.
While Albornoz initially filed a report showing him with no money in his campaign treasury, he said Wednesday in a telephone interview that he actually has $14,000 on hand—and is filing an amended report. He has already requested $1,350 in general election public funds, and expects to make an additional request for public funds in a filing next week with the State Board of Elections.