Credit: Aaron Kraut

The nearly $20 million in spending disclosed in final financial reports filed by candidates for the District 8 congressional primary show the race was the most expensive to date in the nation for a House seat during the 2015-2016 election cycle.

Filings due at the Federal Election Commission at midnight Friday show that a combined total of  $19.6 million was spent in the course of the contest by the nine contenders in the Democratic primary field—with two-thirds of that amount representing the self-funded campaign of Total Wine & More co-owner David Trone of Potomac, who finished second to state Sen. Jamie Raskin of Takoma Park. 

Trone reported total operating expenditures of more than $13.32 million, securing him a place as the top self-funded House candidate in history. Outside of $6,700 in small individual contributions, the rest of the campaign spending came out of Trone’s pocket. Up until now, the largest self-funded candidate ever was businessman Phil Maloof, who spent $12.65 million in 1998 in pursuit of a New Mexico House seat, according to the nonpartisan, Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics. But Maloof’s spending stretched across two campaigns—a special election and the 1998 general election—while Trone’s was for just one contest.

Previous FEC filings by the District 8 Democratic contenders, stretching back to when the contest got underway in the spring of 2015, revealed that a combined $13.7 million had been spent by the Democratic contenders as of early this past April. The newly filed reports, covering April 7 through June 30, indicate that close to another $6 million in expenses was incurred in the final weeks leading up to the April 26 primary, and its immediate aftermath.

The $19.6 million in combined spending by the candidates themselves does not take into account more than $400,000 spent by “independent expenditure” committees to boost several of the contenders—pushing the total cost of the contest to just above $20 million. Four of the candidates—Raskin, former Marriott International executive Kathleen Matthews of Chevy Chase, and former Obama administration officials Will Jawando of Silver Spring and Joel Rubin of Chevy Chase—benefitted from efforts by these independent expenditure committees, which are barred by law from coordinating their activities with a candidate’s personal campaign committee.

The largest beneficiary was Matthews, who was boosted by more than $291,000—most of it for fliers mailed to voters—spent by Women Vote!, a Super PAC affiliated with EMILY’s List. Raskin was supported by about $32,000 in such expenditures, with $27,500 of that for ads and mailings coming from the Free Thought Equality Super PAC, affiliated with the American Humanist Association.

The latest FEC filings secure District 8’s standing as the most expensive House race in the nation to date during the 2015-2016 election cycle. But it is not the most expensive House contest ever. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, which compiles extensive historical data on campaign spending, that distinction appears to belong to the contest for Florida’s 18th District seat in 2012, when nearly $29.6 million was spent—including about $23 million by the candidates themselves, and more than $6.5 million from Super PACs and other independent expenditure groups.

Of course, the 2015-2016 campaign is not over, so spending could still go higher. But the fall general election, when Raskin is considered a prohibitive favorite over Republican nominee Dan Cox, is not expected to add significantly to the current $20 million total.

Trone announced his candidacy in late January, although he later revealed that he had been exploring running since the summer of 2015. In its April filing with the FEC, the Trone campaign reported that it incurred more than $9.02 million in expenditures through April 6. In its latest disclosure report, the Trone campaign reported spending another $4.3 million in the closing weeks of the primary contest.

According to the latest FEC filings, Trone continued to pump money into his primary bid until literally the 11th hour, with his final infusion of cash—about $700,000—coming April 25, 24 hours before the polls opened on Primary Day. Two-thirds of what he spent in the closing weeks, about $2.75 million, was to purchase TV advertising time. Combined with related expenditures of $6.15 million contained in his earlier April report, Trone spent a total of about $8.9 million—two-thirds of his total campaign budget—on a TV ad campaign that saturated the Washington market.

In addition, Trone purchased extensive time on Baltimore broadcast TV stations to reach the 15 percent of District 8 Democratic voters who live in outlying Carroll and Frederick counties. It paid off, as Trone took those counties by margins of 4-1 over Raskin and 2-1 over Matthews, even as he lagged significantly behind Raskin in vote-rich Montgomery.

While coming nowhere close to Trone’s level of spending, Raskin and Matthews—who finished third overall in the field of nine candidates—nonetheless spent a hefty $4.64 million combined in pursuit of the nomination, with a total of $1.9 million for Raskin and $2.74 million for Matthews. Raskin did outspend Matthews in the closing weeks of the contest, reporting about $660,000 in expenditures, as compared to $590,000 for Matthews.

Raskin raised nearly $2.17 million from outside contributors in the course of the campaign, not far behind Matthews—who tapped into a network of contacts in Boston, New York, and California as well as Washington to bring in $2.25 million. Matthews’ edge in campaign expenditures resulted from significant personal loans: Her latest disclosure form shows her loaning her campaign an additional $140,000 on April 25—the day prior to the primary—on top of a couple of $250,000 loans in mid-March and early April from her personal assets.

Her filing Friday indicates that $390,000 of these loans were forgiven in mid-May, in effect turning them into a donation to the campaign. The remaining $250,000 loan is still being carried on the campaign’s books, albeit it is generally difficult to pay back such loans if one is not an incumbent fundraising for re-election.

Matthews has not ruled out another bid for office. However, in a May interview with The Washington Post, she did appear to rule out running in neighboring District 6 in 2018 if incumbent Democrat John Delaney wins re-election this year and then runs for governor. Trone, who has said that he plans to pursue future opportunities for public service, is regarded as a potential candidate in District 6 if such a scenario plays out.

Five of the six remaining dark horse candidates in the Democratic race accounted for another $1.64 million in campaign spending, according to the latest filings. A sixth contender, former biotech industry official Dan Bolling of Bethesda, has yet to file his report covering the final weeks of the primary.

Del. Kumar Barve of Rockville reported $593,000 in total campaign expenditures. Barve, a member of the Maryland General Assembly since 1990, had long eyed the 8th District seat, maintaining a congressional campaign committee on the books with the FEC since 2002. But Barve finished sixth in the April primary after struggling with poor fundraising and a limited voter base, and last week moved to terminate his congressional campaign committee.  

Jawando, who spent a total of $507,000, received an additional $54,000 boost—in the form of mailings and automated phone calls—from a Super PAC called 21st Century Leaders, founded by a former aide to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Jawando, a onetime congressional aide, is said to be eyeing a bid to fill Raskin’s state Senate seat after the November election, or possibly running for county office in 2018.

Rubin, also a former congressional aide, spent $282,000 on his campaign and was aided by another $38,000, mostly for digital advertising, from A New Voice For Maryland, a Super PAC underwritten by a friend of Rubin’s.

Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez of Chevy Chase spent just $121,700 in finishing a distant fourth in the District 8 Democratic primary with 5.5 percent of the vote. Her committee had sufficient funds on hand at the end of the Democratic primary race to pay her back for the $94,500 in personal loans that she had made early in the contest.

But David Anderson of Potomac, an official of a Washington-based seminar and internship program, did not end the campaign in as fortunate a financial situation. He spent about $129,000 on his longshot bid for the Democratic congressional nod, with about $60,000 coming from personal loans. Anderson recouped a little over $1,000 of the amount in terminating his committee last week, writing off the nearly $59,000 remaining.   

Raskin took in about $300,000 in contributions between early April and June 30, a majority of that money coming in after the primary and targeted to the general election contest. Raskin had $265,000 in his campaign treasury at the end of June, and recently told supporters in an email that he is seeking to raise $50,000 to help underwrite the costs of a coordinated fall campaign with Van Hollen—the party’s Senate nominee—as well as Democrats running for the state’s other seven U.S. House seats.

Raskin’s Republican opponent, Cox—an attorney from Emmitsburg in Frederick County—has yet to file a financial disclosure report with the FEC covering the second quarter of the year. His prior report, filed in mid-April, shows Cox—who won his party’s nomination with 44 percent in a five-person race—having raised less than $10,000, with only about $6,650 on hand.

Cox is running in a district where Democrats enjoy a better than 2-1 registration advantage. Also on the November ballot in the 8th District are Green Party candidate Nancy Wallace of Bethesda and Libertarian Party nominee Jason Wunder of Sykesville in Carroll County.