Republican County Executive candidate Robin Ficker is looking to promote his campaign by sending information to the roughly 200,000 email addresses maintained by Montgomery County and several County Council members.
On Wednesday, county officials received a public information request from Ficker, a Republican, who asked for the email addresses used by the county to distribute its Paperless Airplane newsletter as well as the lists maintained by council members.
The request is basically the same as those made by Bethesda resident Robert Lipman—who received more than 219,000 email addresses from the county in February and March.
Ficker said he plans use the addresses to send emails to potential voters about his campaign or the records of his competitors.
“I’m interested in who’s contacting the council and I may contact them because they’re interested in county affairs and so am I,” Ficker said Friday.
The request appears to be the first by a current candidate for local office to obtain the email addresses, which were released to Lipman under the Maryland Public Information Act.
Since the release to Lipman became public, the county has been moving quickly to alter its own open data law regulations to prevent the email addresses from being posted online to its open data website where anyone can access them. Both the Paperless Airplane and council members’ lists were initially posted and then removed from the data website last month as the county worked on revising the open data regulations. The county’s open data law requires that responses to public information requests be posted on the website.
Ficker is well known in county politics. He has frequently sought public office and ran unsuccessfully for local offices six times since 2006. The Boyds attorney has backed successful efforts to pass ballot initiatives—including the 2016 effort that imposed term limits on council members and the county executive as well as a 2008 charter amendment that requires all nine council members to approve a significant property tax increase.
He’s running for county executive in 2018 and plans to use public financing to fund his campaign.
The passage of term limits forces Democratic council members Nancy Floreen, Roger Berliner, George Leventhal and Marc Elrich to step down in 2018. Leventhal and Elrich have already announced they will run for county executive, while Berliner has said he is considering a run.
Elrich, Berliner and Leventhal all maintain lists of the email addresses of people who have contacted their offices or subscribed to their newsletters that Ficker would be able to obtain as part of his public information request. Elrich’s list contains 10,340 subscribers, Leventhal’s has 11,381 and Berliner’s contains 20,232 addresses, according to the records provided to Bethesda Beat by the county last month. Council members Sidney Katz, Nancy Navarro, Nancy Floreen and Hans Riemer also maintain email lists that were provided to Lipman when he requested them. The Paperless Airplane list maintained by the county’s communications department has more than 127,000 email subscribers.
Ficker said he’s not concerned about a possible backlash from individuals who receive his unsolicited emails.
“I get 500 emails per day,” Ficker said. “Am I going to feel animosity against the 501st email I get? I don’t think so. I think if you don’t like an email, you just blink it off. If you don’t like a piece of mail you get, you throw it in the trash. I don’t think anyone would have an adverse reaction to getting an email unless it’s offensive, such as if it is pornographic or has a personal attack in it. People are used to getting hundreds of emails every day.”
The county has 30 days to respond to Ficker’s request, but county officials told Bethesda Beat last week that state law requires the county to provide the email address lists to anyone who requests them.
Ficker said if the county fails to provide the lists, he’ll file a lawsuit.
“If they withhold it from me, then I suppose they’ll have a chance to explain it to the judge,” Ficker said. “This is the American system.”