Notwithstanding significant differences on many of the issues central to the 2016 campaign, the two major party candidates in Maryland’s most competitive congressional election this fall share similarities in terms of their respective backgrounds.
Democratic Rep. John Delaney, who has represented the 6th District for the past four years, and Republican challenger Amie Hoeber, are residents of the same Potomac neighborhood. In fact, both actually live just outside the boundaries of the 6th District in the neighboring 8th District. (The U.S. Constitution requires only that a member of Congress be a resident of the state, not the district that he or she is seeking to represent.)
Delaney and Hoeber each have access to substantial personal wealth, and have not hesitated to draw on their personal assets in current or past campaigns. And both came relatively late in life to pursuit of elected office: Delaney was just a few months short of his 50th birthday when he was first elected to Congress in 2012. Making her first run for elected office this year, Hoeber, at 74, would be among the oldest freshman House members ever: The record is held by Illinois Democrat James Bowler, who arrived on Capitol Hill in 1953 at 78.
The upshot is that Delaney and Hoeber, amid some sharp sniping at each other on numerous political and policy fronts as the campaign goes into post-Labor Day high gear, share a support of term limits—while bemoaning what Delaney described as “careerism” in modern-day politics.
Hoeber last week signed on to a constitutional amendment proposed by an advocacy group, U.S. Term Limits, that calls for three two-year terms for House members and two six-year terms for senators; Delaney is supportive of such limits on Senate service, but favors a similar six-term, 12-year restriction for House members.
“My wife and I…heard an expression early, when we were first getting married, that a good way to think about your life is a third learning, a third earning, and a third serving. I always had in the back of my mind that, at some point, I wanted to do public service,” Delaney recalled in an interview, adding: “I think I’m doing this for the right reason. I really want to do public service.”
For Delaney, the “earning” phase of his life began shortly after attending Columbia University on a scholarship and getting his law degree at Georgetown University. “I definitely wasn’t the kid who, out of college, wanted to go work in politics,” he said. “I was really focused on business.” He went on to start two businesses that became publicly traded corporations, and which, while making him one of the wealthiest members of Congress, also have provided occasional fodder for criticism by his opponents—most recently, Hoeber.
Hoeber, upon graduating from Stanford University with bachelor’s degree in political science, promptly visited a favorite professor. “This is all very nice—how do I pay my rent next week?” she chuckled in recalling what she asked him. The professor sent her to the Stanford Research Institute (now SRI), which hired her to work on an Army ballistic missile project.
Having gotten into defense work by what she termed “pure accident,” Hoeber has remained in the field for the past half-century, including seven years as the Reagan administration’s deputy undersecretary of the Army (she said she was one of only three women in the upper echelons of the Pentagon during that era). For the past 23 years, as a Maryland-based consultant, she has focused on what she described as “nuclear, chemical and biological warfare and warfare defense”; a partial client list includes such familiar defense industry names as General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.
“I’m not at all a traditional politician, and don’t intend to be,” Hoeber told a group recently assembled at a residence in Potomac. “I think that’s not what we need in Congress—people who have been there for their whole lives.” Hoeber decided to make her first run for elected office “because I am thoroughly dismayed at the state of our national security posture today.”
At the same time, her bid was actively encouraged by the National Republican Congressional Committee, the political arm of the House Republican majority, according to sources. NRCC strategists are said to have seen Hoeber’s profile—a female candidate with center/right policy positions—as a good match for the district, where Delaney narrowly won re-election in 2014.
The NRCC, while providing indirect assistance to the Hoeber campaign, has yet to commit to making any direct financial contributions to bolster her. Hoeber, while expressing the hope that such aid will be forthcoming, acknowledged, “My understanding is that they are unlikely to put money into this race until later, assuming they think I am doing well.”
To date, a large portion of the money to boost Hoeber’s bid has come from Maryland USA, a so-called SuperPAC into which Mark Epstein—Hoeber’s husband of nearly 30 years and a former telecommunications executive—has pumped $2.4 million. Under the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision and a subsequent lower court ruling, Super PACs—unlike candidate campaign committees—may accept unlimited donations from individuals as well as corporations.
Delaney, like many fellow congressional Democrats, said he would “absolutely” vote for a constitutional amendment to roll back the Citizens United ruling. Hoeber, however, argued that outside donors should be free to give as much as they choose—either to SuperPACs or congressional campaign committees.
“I am not prohibited from giving as much money as I want to my campaign. Why is that different from anybody else giving money that they want to my campaign?” she asked. “I see no reason why they shouldn’t be allowed to spend their money the way they choose. I think that’s a First Amendment right.”
Asked about the potential for corruption from such large outside donations, Hoeber replied, “There’s certainly the potential for corruption in almost any donation. I believe that the electorate ought to be able to judge one’s integrity. You’re trying to legislate morality and legislate integrity, and I don’t think you can do that.”
For his part, Delaney has poured nearly $3.3 million of his personal fortune into his past two campaigns, and, while he has yet to do so in 2016, clearly has the capacity to pump millions more into his latest re-election bid. Coming on the heels of a $20 million race for the District 8 Democratic congressional nomination last spring, a second high-spending Montgomery County congressional contest is clearly in the offing in the 6th District this fall.
In contention is a district redrawn in 2011 to give a Democrat a leg up by including about one-third of the voters living in Montgomery County—extending from much of Potomac through Gaithersburg and into the northern and western sections of the county. But the district also continues to include heavily Republican portions of western Maryland, where both the terrain and socioeconomic conditions resemble West Virginia far more than North Potomac.
Notwithstanding his close call in an off-year election two years ago, Delaney won by more than 20 points his first time out in 2012, and is favored this time around in another presidential year—when Democratic voter turnout in predominantly blue Maryland is expected to be high.
Hoeber is clearly seeking to mobilize turnout in the Republican-dominated western end of the district, including Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties—the latter a nearly 200-mile drive from Potomac. “I believe I care far more about the entire district than the current incumbent. He has paid virtually no attention to the three western counties,” Hoeber charged. “I think, in his view, the district tends to stop at Frederick, with maybe an occasional sidetrip to Hagerstown.”
Delaney called Hoeber’s assertion “ridiculous,” adding, “People like to say these things because they just presume that if you’re in Montgomery County, you don’t care about the rest of the district.” He said he has held nearly 50 open office hours or “large-scale workshops” throughout the district since early 2015, adding, “There’s no question relative to population that we have overperformed in western Maryland.” A breakdown provided later by Delaney’s office indicated that about two-thirds of these sessions took place outside of Montgomery County, with just over one-third of them held in the three western counties of the 6th District.
Hoeber also has made clear she believes Delaney’s activities before going to Congress are an issue.
Working his way through his second year of law school, Delaney was employed by a small firm he described as “kind of half law firm, half real estate development firm.” He said “it was then I kind of decided I wanted to be an entrepreneur and go into business.” He formed Health Care Financial Partners, which was focused on financing health care companies, and later CapitalSource—a commercial lender acquired by PacWest Bancorp several months after Delaney’s election to Congress.
His business activities have sparked periodic controversy for Delaney since his first bid for Congress, when they were raised by his Democratic primary opponent, then-state Sen. Rob Garagiola. Hoeber charged recently that Delaney “has taken advantage of people who have been distressed, and, while there’s nothing illegal about that, I think it’s a matter of showing how much he doesn’t care about people who have needs.”
Responded Delaney, “She’s just not looking at the facts and [is] making up a narrative that doesn’t exist,” adding, after a short pause, “In other words, she’s lying.” He said both companies he started were engaged in financing other businesses, “and all that rhetoric has to do with consumer finance, which I was never engaged in. I never lent money to individuals.”
Delaney, however, has taken political heat in the past for a loan that CapitalSource—during his time as chief executive—made to Aeon Financial, a firm that has been sharply criticized by officials in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Ohio for buying up tax liens and then charging large fees in order for homeowners to avoid foreclosure. In late 2013, a Delaney spokesman told The Washington Post that Delaney was not previously aware of Aeon’s problems, and that the $30 million loan to Aeon was among nearly 5,000 loans totaling $20 billion made during Delaney’s tenure at CapitalSource.
While he was not involved in Aeon’s operations, Delaney recently defended the practice of buying up delinquent tax liens. “What people don’t understand is that, unless people pay property taxes, we can’t fund the public schools. So when they don’t pay their property taxes, the jurisdictions sell the lien and someone actually collects the money. That’s a legitimate function in society,” he contended. “How would you feel if your neighbor didn’t pay the property tax and there was never any accountability for it?”
At the same time, Delaney boasted that CapitalSource, under his leadership, had received a Bank Enterprise Award from the Obama administration’s Treasury Department in 2010. According to the department, such financial awards go to firms that “successfully demonstrate an increase in their…lending, investing, or service activities in distressed communities.”
Declared Delaney, “I stand behind everything my companies did—and I’m willing to debate that.”