Aruna Miller Credit: Provided photo

Miller gets a late boost from independent expenditure group focused on science and tech

State Del. Aruna Miller of Darnestown, who has sought to highlight her engineering background in her bid for the District 6 congressional seat this year, is getting a late boost from a political committee that, according to its website, is devoted to “electing more STEM [Science Technology Engineering Math] candidates to office.”

In filings with the Federal Election Commission, the 314 Action Fund late last week reported pumping just under $22,000 into Miller’s campaign in advance of Tuesday’s primary. The money is for digital advertising as Miller contends in an eight-way contest for the Democratic nomination in which she and businessman David Trone of Potomac and state Sen. Roger Manno of Silver Spring are considered the leading contenders. The district extends 200 miles from Potomac and Gaithersburg to the western edge of the Maryland Panhandle.

The fund’s name is a word play on Pi—the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, which, in rounded terms, is 3.14. “It’s the most widely known mathematical ratio both inside and out of the scientific community,” notes the website of the 314 Action Fund—a so-called independent expenditure committee. Such groups do not operate with the same contribution limits as candidate campaign committees, but they are prohibited from coordinating their activities with individual candidates.

Miller also benefited from $2,500 for printed fliers from the NEA Fund for Children and Public in mid-June. That independent expenditure group was established by the National Education Association, a different arm of which has endorsed Miller’s candidacy.

Despite the late efforts by the NEA and 314 Action funds, the independent expenditure efforts on behalf of her candidacy are modest—totaling $24,500, in comparison to the $811,000 that her own campaign committee reported spending during the 2017-2018 election cycle in a report filed 10 days ago.

EMILY’s List, a national political action committee that supports the candidacies of Democratic women who back abortion rights, endorsed Miller early in the campaign. But the independent expenditure committee affiliated with EMILY’s List, Women Vote!, has yet to report spending any funds on Miller’s behalf. In contrast, Women Vote! two years ago expended nearly $300,000 on a late mail campaign on behalf of now-Maryland Democratic Party Chair Kathleen Matthews, who finished third in the Democratic congressional primary won by current U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin in neighboring District 8.

It is not clear why Women Vote! has refrained from investing in the 6th District race—considered the most competitive congressional contest in Maryland this year. Recent FEC filings show Women Vote! focusing its funding efforts on congressional primaries in California and Pennsylvania—two states considered key battlegrounds in Democratic efforts to regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018.

– Louis Peck


Democratic committee candidate who backed Hogan is issue in fractious District 17 primary

A late controversy in Tuesday’s fractious primary in Gaithersburg/Rockville-based District 17 involves a candidate for the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (MCDCC) who supported now-Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in the 2014 election.

Matthew Lee, a Gaithersburg businessman, has the support of state Sen. Cheryl Kagan, MCDCC Chair Dave Kunes, and former MCDCC Treasurer Julian Haffner—now a candidate for state delegate—in a three-way race for a Democratic committee slot from District 17. But Lee’s candidacy has come under criticism from Del. Kumar Barve, the district’s senior legislator.

“This guy has ping-ponged between the two political parties,” Barve complained of Lee, who became a Republican in April 2015 and switched back to Democratic affiliation a year later. Meanwhile, Lee pledged that he will “definitely” support whichever Democrat is nominated Tuesday to take on Hogan, and his backers are promoting his candidacy as a way for Democrats to reach out to the county’s Asian-American community—seen as up for grabs politically.

The verbal sparring comes against a backdrop of a District 17 primary in which Barve and Del. Jim Gilchrist have teamed up to seek re-election, and have added Rockville City Council member Julie Palakovich Carr to their slate in place of retiring Del. Andrew Platt. But Kagan, while endorsing Barve and Palakovich Carr in a recent mailing, is advocating supplanting incumbent Gilchrist with Haffner. (Also in the six-person Democratic field for delegate are county Board of Education member Rebecca Smondrowski and physician Esam Al-Shareffi).

Kagan’s mailing also seeks support for Kunes, a Rockville resident running for an at-large seat on the Democratic committee, as well as Lee—while Barve’s choice for the District 17 MCDCC slot set aside for males is Cameron Rhode of Gaithersburg, whom Barve declared “has been a Democratic activist from middle school to graduate school.”

In an interview, Barve said: “My support for Cameron is primarily a positive thing for him. But I have to tell you, I am troubled by the possibility of a Hogan supporter being on the central committee … . I’m going to be very leery about sharing strategic campaign information with the committee if he gets elected. I don’t think people who have supported him did their homework.”

Haffner—who has organized an informal slate that includes himself as well as Lee, Kunes and Luisa Arevalo, a candidate for the District 17 MCDCC slot designated for females—said of Lee’s opponents: “They’re running a pretty competitive race, and I think they’re kind of grasping at straws at this point to undermine Matthew’s candidacy.”

In separate interviews, Haffner and Kunes cited the prospect that Lee, 54—who emigrated from South Korea in his late teens—would be a point of outreach to the county’s Asian-American community. “The reason I support Matthew is that I think he represents a very important constituency that we as Democrats have had a problem bringing into the fold—essentially businesses and members of our Asian community,” said Haffner. “I think he’d make a great ambassador to those two communities.”

Lee—who heads a 150-person cybersecurity firm with several federal government contracts—said that while he originally registered as a Democrat in the late 1990s, “I wasn’t involved in politics at all” at that time. He became friends with Hogan’s wife, Yumi, who is Korean, and subsequently went to work for the Hogan campaign in 2014. He said he had been offered a job by Hogan after the election, but turned it down due to business obligations.

Lee said his switch to the Republican Party in 2015 followed service in the post-election Hogan transition. “I kind of got involved with the Republican Party, and I pursued some of their party activities, and then I realized this is not the party I want to be in,” he said. He said he had actively supported Democrats ranging from Hillary Clinton to now-Sen. Chris Van Hollen and now-Rep. Jamie Raskin in 2016, and decided to run for the MCDCC this year at Kunes’ suggestion: There are currently no Asian-Americans on the committee.

Lee indicated he understands the questions raised by his switch from Democrat to Republican back to Democrat. “People [point to] David Blair being a Republican 15 years ago,” said Lee, alluding to a criticism of Blair that has been raised in the latter’s county executive bid. Added Lee, with a chuckle: “I now realize politics is like that—so I’m learning.”

– Louis Peck


Friedson runs cable ads in District 1 County Council race

Democrat Andrew Friedson used some of the sizable war chest he has raised to run more than 50 ads on cable news shows on MSNBC and CNN in the two weeks before Tuesday’s primary election. Friedson, a former adviser to Comptroller Peter Franchot, said he spent about $27,000 to run the ads that prominently feature his endorsement by The Washington Post. He wrote in an email that he believes he is the only County Council candidate to have bought television advertising during the 2018 election cycle.

Friedson is in a competitive Democratic primary for the District 1 County Council seat that is being vacated by Roger Berliner, who must step down due to term limits. Other contenders in the race include state Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Chevy Chase), attorney Reggie Oldak, former Montgomery County Planning Board member Meredith Wellington and former Kensington mayor Pete Fosselman.

Friedson, who is using traditional campaign financing, had about $245,300 in cash on hand the month before the election—more than double the amount that any of his competitors had at the time.

– Andrew Metcalf