Former County Executive Ike Leggett (at podium) speaks at a news briefing in Silver Spring on Thursday, as he and several other elected officials and county candidates criticized Progressives for Progress, a super PAC consisting of more than a dozen county developers. Credit: Photo by Steve Bohnel

On a sunny Thursday at Silver Spring’s Veterans Plaza, multiple former and current elected officials, alongside some candidates for County Council, urged voters to be wary of campaign mailers and advertisements paid for by a developer-backed super PAC. 

That super PAC, Progressives for Progress, has endorsed David Blair for county executive, as well as County Council candidates Brian Anleu, Marilyn Balcombe, Natali Fani-González, Amy Ginsburg, Scott Goldberg and Dawn Luedtke and incumbent council members Gabe Albornoz, Andrew Friedson, Evan Glass, Tom Hucker and Sidney Katz.

But at-large County Council Member Will Jawando, seeking a second four-year term on the council, said Thursday during the press conference that Progressives for Progress was misleading voters by stating they were backing progressive candidates in local county races. He is not backed by the super PAC.

Progressives for Progress is a super PAC that is financially backed by dozens of developers across the state, and has collected well over half a million dollars since late April. The group has sent out flyers and published advertisements backing the candidates it has endorsed.

Flyers and advertisements produced by the super PAC trumpet its endorsed candidates as those who will help bring economic opportunity and affordable housing to the county, funding new transit opportunities and keeping Montgomery County Public Schools strong. 

Progressives for Progress Chairman Charles K. Nulsen III has said the group is aimed at backing candidates to correct a “dysfunctional” county government.

In a statement on Thursday, County Council Vice President Evan Glass denounced the super PAC, saying its picks for county races do not reflect the county’s diversity.

“The ‘Progressives for Progress’ slate does not reflect our racial diversity and the name is misleading. The deceptive practices being used by this group are anything but progressive,” Glass said in a statement.

Jawando was joined at the early voting site at the Silver Spring Civic Center by former county executive Ike Leggett, Takoma Park Mayor and District 4 County Council candidate Kate Stewart, at-large council candidate Laurie-Anne Sayles, Progressive Maryland Executive Director Larry Stafford, and Rev. James E. Boney, one of the presidents of the Black Ministers Conference of Montgomery County, as well as around half a dozen other elected officials and candidates.

At Thursday’s news briefing — as many candidates pitched to voters heading into the civic center to cast ballots— the participants noted the hundreds of thousands of dollars poured into what they call “misleading” advertisements and campaign mailers in recent months, leading up to the July 19 primary.

“We don’t need billionaires telling us how to vote in Montgomery County, especially when they’re being deceitful and untruthful,” Stafford told those gathered Thursday.

Stafford, along with Jawando and others, noted the super PAC did not endorse any Black candidates for a county office, when around 20% of the county’s population is Black, according to the U.S. Census. They emphasized that they were criticizing the PAC and not the candidates it had endorsed.

In response, Nulsen said in a statement that Progressives for Progress is comprised of Maryland businesses who pay millions of dollars in taxes and employ thousands of Montgomery County residents.

“After reviewing the candidates’ backgrounds and positions on the issues, Progressives for Progress was proud to endorse a County Council team which includes 3 Latinos and 4 women,” Nulsen said in a statement. “The selection process was color-blind and based on a candidate’s understanding of the issues and positions. The Progressives for Progress Council slate reflects candidates who will bring balance and fiscal oversight to the County.”

But those who participated in Thursday’s event still question the super PAC’s progressive label. Leggett said in an interview that the difference between this PAC and other fundraising efforts in past election cycles is that Progressives for Progress is pouring more money into local races, its mailers and messaging is deceptive, and the group isn’t as inclusive as it should be.

“I have nothing wrong with developers saying, ‘Vote for our candidates,’ ” Leggett said. “But let people know that you are developers and what you’re supporting. That’s the problem … in the past, when you had pro-growth versus anti-growth candidates, you knew who the pro-growth candidates were, and who the [anti-growth candidates were].”

In an interview, Jawando said he’s spoken with dozens of county residents who have asked why he isn’t included on the Progressives for Progress mailers and advertisements. He said he didn’t oppose past advocacy efforts by Nulsen who in 2018 organized the Empower Montgomery PAC — a group aiming to improve economic development and business interests in the county — because those have been more truthful. 

Other special interests — police unions, labor unions, and other groups — have also endorsed candidates, but they have been truthful about who they are as an organization, he added. 

“We can have a different discussion on a different day on money in politics, [the Supreme Court case] Citizens United, and is money speech? [But] that’s settled law right now,” Jawando said. “This is different because they’re trying to deceive people about who they are and what they stand for.” 

[For more information on candidates for local, state and federal races, check out the Bethesda Beat voters guide.]

Primary Election Day is July 19. Early voting runs through July 14. Any mail-in ballot postmarked by 8 p.m. on Election Day or dropped into a ballot drop box countywide will be counted, as long as it is filled out correctly.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com