Relying largely on more than $12.5 million in personal funds that he has pumped into his own campaign, two-term Rep. David Trone (D-Potomac) outspent his Republican opponent, state Del. Neil Parrott of Hagerstown, by a ratio of more than 28-1 during the three months ending Sept. 30, according to newly filed campaign disclosure reports.
Trone’s campaign reported expenditures of nearly $4.8 million in the third quarter of the year, according to a report filed with the Federal Election Commission on Saturday. While the period covered by the report begins July 1 and includes the run-up to the July 19 primary, the lion’s share of Trone’s spending occurred as his campaign shifted to the general election challenge from Parrott.
Nearly half of what Trone spent during this period – approximately $2.23 million – went toward the production and airing of paid ad spots on TV broadcast stations in Washington, D.C., and Hagerstown, as well as on cable systems throughout the 6th District. The district stretches nearly 200 miles from Montgomery County west to the edge of the Maryland Panhandle.
In contrast, Parrott reported spending a little more than $166,000 during the July 1 through Sept. 30 period. As the Nov. 8 election looms, he appears to have relied primarily on a combination of online ads and direct mail to get his message out.
Parrott was also Trone’s 2020 Republican opponent, losing that race by 59% to 39%. But the 6th District was dramatically altered earlier this year in a redistricting plan triggered by the 2020 census: It is now widely regarded as the only one among Maryland’s eight congressional districts (currently controlled 7-1 by the Democrats) in which the Republicans have a serious chance for a pickup next month.
About 150,000 Montgomery County voters – slightly less than one-quarter of all registered voters in the county – currently reside in the 6th District, down from about one-third of the Montgomery electorate located there prior to redistricting. Democrats now have about 30,000 more registered voters in the district than the Republicans, a decrease from an 80,000-Democratic voter advantage in the old 6th District.
Nonetheless, two D.C.-based enterprises devoted to handicapping congressional races around the country – the Cook Political Report and Inside Elections – continue to rate Trone as “likely” to retain the seat, and a large factor in those ratings is his huge financial advantage.
It is not clear from Parrott’s filing how much his campaign spent on TV ads during the three months ending Sept. 30. But the online public inspection website maintained by the Federal Communications Commission indicates the Parrott campaign made a limited TV ad buy prior to the July 19 primary, and has not purchased any TV time since — in advance of the general election.
Trone, meanwhile, has been running a nonstop stream of TV ads, several of which emphasize his growing up in modest circumstances on a farm in Pennsylvania — prior to his starting the business enterprise that is today Total Wine & More, a privately held chain of more than 230 retail stores nationwide of which Trone is co-owner.
While Trone’s emphasis on his biography in the ads appears aimed at connecting with voters in a district with a large rural component, Trone went on the attack in one TV ad earlier this month — blasting Parrott for proposing in a 2005 letter to the editor in the Hagerstown Herald-Mail that all men, women and children who tested HIV positive be tattooed for identification purposes.
Parrott – an outspoken conservative since first being elected to the House of Delegates in 2010 – called a news conference in response to the Trone ad, in which he said he had recanted his call for the tattooing of HIV-positive individuals a dozen years ago, while accusing Trone of misleading voters.
Next week, the two candidates will debate face to face for the first time this year – at Frostburg State University in Allegany County on Oct. 24, and then again at a Washington County Chamber of Commerce breakfast in Hagerstown on Oct. 26.
Trone’s saturation TV ad campaign was supplemented during the third quarter of the year by large amounts spent as well on digital advertising (a total of $667,000 in payments to AL Media), direct mail ($625,000 to AMS Communications) and field consulting ($565,000 to Donohue Partners), according to figures listed in his latest disclosure report. Field consulting firms’ offerings often include recruiting workers for tasks such as voter canvassing and campaign literature distribution.
In his latest filing, Parrott reported spending the largest amount of money for direct mail efforts – a total of about $62,000 paid to about three firms and the U.S. Postal Service during the third quarter. Another $19,300 went to a consulting firm, the Prosper Group, for digital media efforts.
Parrott’s latest total expenditures of $166,000 brings his total 2021-2022 campaign spending to about $300,000, dwarfed by the $6.96 million that Trone has spent since the start of the current campaign.
Of the $12.55 million that Trone has loaned to his candidacy during this election cycle, most of that — $10 million — was transferred to the campaign in late June. While wealthy candidates often label self-financing efforts as “loans” to make them eligible for reimbursement, such funding is rarely paid back – and often ends up being converted into donations.
Trone, in first winning the 6th District in 2018, pumped $17.5 million in personal assets into the effort – which still stands as a national record for a self-funded campaign for the House of Representatives. Two years earlier, he dug into his pocket for $13 million in an unsuccessful primary bid in the neighboring 8th District now represented by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Takoma Park).
This time around, Trone’s willingness to open his pocketbook has translated into his campaign showing about $6.2 million on hand as of Sept. 30, with about five weeks to go until Election Day — as compared to about $472,000 that the Parrott campaign reported in the bank.
In terms of contributions received from donors other than the candidate, Parrott has outdistanced Trone: He reported raising nearly $293,500 in the third quarter of 2022, for a total of $622,750 since the start of the campaign.
In addition to what he has loaned to himself, Trone has raised a little more than $442,000 in outside contributions during the course of the campaign – including $211,500 during the third quarter of 2022.
Parrott’s contributions include a total of $12,000 from three conservative political action committees. Trone has received $10,000 in contributions from the campaign committees of his House colleagues, including $4,000 from a committee affiliated with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California – a frequent target of conservatives in this year’s midterm election, and to whom Parrott has repeatedly sought to link Trone.
Louis Peck, a contributing editor for Bethesda Magazine, can be reached at: email@example.com.