Editor’s note: The views expressed in MoCo Politics are the writer’s and do not reflect those of Bethesda Beat staff.
We are entering the final week of the 2018 general election cycle. Here are four observations about the Montgomery County executive race.
No. 1: Income equality
At the outset of this race, many people thought that County Council member Nancy Floreen and the super PAC supporting her would have a big monetary advantage over her fellow council member Marc Elrich and the PACs supporting him. But that hasn’t happened. The table below summarizes the latest campaign finance reports from both sides, along with those of Republican candidate Robin Ficker.
Elrich and his supporters have raised $1,214,503 so far when Elrich’s latest application for public matching funds is included. That is nearly equal to the $1,275,873 raised by Floreen and her supporters. Ficker, with $323,004 when his most recent matching funds application is included, trails far behind. Money raised by public campaign financing accounts (those belonging to Elrich and Ficker) is about even with money raised by traditional accounts, which include Floreen’s account and the three PACs.
This is good news for Team Elrich, which is not getting overwhelmed by developer money as some of Elrich’s supporters feared. On the other hand, it is obvious that whatever its other accomplishments, public financing has not eliminated interest group funding from county elections.
No. 2: Tax hikes don’t pay
One of the more interesting events of the last couple weeks occurred when the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors endorsed Elrich. Floreen never had a chance to get this endorsement. The Realtors were furious with Floreen for authoring a recordation tax increase two years ago that they felt unfairly targeted their industry. Elrich and the rest of the council voted for it, but it was Floreen’s bill. Ironically, the tax hike was supposed to go mostly to school construction, but many prominent PTA activists support Elrich. Other politicians should heed this lesson: Tax hikers get all the blowback and no gratitude!
No. 3: Ficker gets heckled
For the first time in quite a while, opposing political committees are spending—at minimum—tens of thousands of dollars to attack Ficker. The County Above Party PAC, which supports Floreen, has sent out multiple mailers slamming Ficker and at least some of them have gone to Republicans.
Meanwhile, Floreen has released an anti-Ficker campaign video.
Floreen and her supporters do not think Ficker can win but they are trying to shift his voters towards Floreen. This is an illustration of how complicated her path to victory is since it requires votes from Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated people as well.
No. 4: Circus maximus
There has been a lot of questionable activity occurring over the last month. Consider the following.
Oct. 8: Floreen returns $18,000 in contributions from corporate entities that may have had common ownership after a complaint was filed with the State Board of Elections. (I predicted this issue would come up on Sept. 5.)
Oct. 19: Elrich is found to be violating his long-time pledge to reject contributions from developers and land use attorneys. The Washington Post caught him violating it four years ago. Despite this, Elrich is still repeating his pledge, telling the Woman’s Democratic Club on Oct. 28, “I am participating in public financing where no one can contribute more than $150, and I only accept donations from individuals. I also continue my practice of not accepting contributions (even small ones) from developers and their attorneys.”
Oct. 23: Floreen is found to be making false charges about Elrich’s record in a mailer sent to voters. The worst allegation—that Elrich opposed Silver Spring’s redevelopment (he didn’t)—was also made in one of Floreen’s campaign videos.
Oct. 26: Montgomery Neighbors PAC, which says it is “promoting integrity in Montgomery County elections,” admits to committing a campaign finance violation by accepting a $20,000 check from a PAC of which MCGEO President Gino Renne is the treasurer. (MCGEO has endorsed Elrich and has contributed to Progressive Maryland’s super PAC, which opposes Floreen and supports Elrich.) The $20,000 check exceeds the $6,000 contribution limit for PACs, according to state election law.
This last incident may not have been the most meaningful, but it is the dumbest. I was once a campaign treasurer. When an excess contribution comes in, the proper thing to do is return it and ask for a legally compliant contribution. You do not cash the check, spend the money, file your report and then hope that people will regard it all as an innocent mistake, especially not in a white-hot race like this one. If you do that, expect to get nailed. This PAC might have a big problem since it accepted $14,000 in excess contributions and, as of Oct. 21, had just $6,024 in the bank.
Adding to the irony is that the folks behind this PAC have been criticizing politicians about their campaign finance practices for more than a decade. Indeed, Eric Hensal—the PAC spokesman quoted by Bethesda Beat and The Washington Post—confronted Floreen about her campaign finances on a WPFW radio program just last week.
For those who are looking for moral superiority, there is none to be found in this race.
Adam Pagnucco is a writer, researcher and consultant who is a former chief of staff at the County Council. He has worked in the labor movement and has had clients in labor, business and politics.