Final 2022 primary figures show public campaign expenses down from four years ago
This year’s primary election cost Montgomery County taxpayers about $3.46 million for the public campaign finance system that subsidizes candidates running for county executive and County Council, according to final figures from the county’s Department of Finance.
That’s $620,000 less than the $4.08 million in matching funds that the public finance system allocated to primary candidates in 2018 – the first county election since the program’s adoption.
A major reason for this year’s decrease: In the 2018 Democratic primary, no less than 33 candidates competed for four at-large council nominations – a scramble triggered by three term-limited incumbents vacating their seats.
In 2018, a dozen of those 33 contenders tapped into the public campaign finance system for a total of nearly $1.98 million; by comparison, just five of eight Democratic contenders for the four at-large nominations this year participated in public funding. They qualified for a combined total of $867,000, a drop of more than $1.1 million from four years ago.
By the same token, public funding expenditures in district council races jumped this year, as the number of council districts expanded from five to seven as a result of a 2020 voter referendum.
In 2022, 13 Democrats running for district council seats tapped into the public finance system, with at least one candidate qualifying in six of the seven district primaries. The 13 qualified for a total of $992,000 in public matching funds. That’s more than twice the combined $446,000 collected by seven candidates — a half-dozen Democrats and a Republican — running in five district primaries in 2018.
Because there were no contested Republican nomination races for the council this year, no GOP council candidates were eligible for matching funds in the July 19 primary. The two GOP primary contenders for county executive, Reardon Sullivan — who won the nomination — and Shelly Skolnick could have filed to participate but did not opt to do so.
Two of the three candidates for the Democratic executive nomination, incumbent Marc Elrich — who emerged as the party’s nominee – and Hans Riemer opted to participate.
Under the system, candidates agree to limit private contributions from individuals to $250 per person, the first $150 of which is eligible for the public funding match. Participating candidates also agree not to accept donations from corporate entities or political committees, and to limit self-financing to no more than $12,000 per election. (Democratic county executive candidate David Blair, who did not opt for the public financing program, spent nearly $6.2 million in personal assets this year on a largely self-financed primary bid.)
In return for limiting private funding, county executive candidates running in the primary are eligible for up to $750,000 in public matching funds; the maximum is $250,000 for at-large council candidates and $125,000 for those running at the district level.
Advocates who sought enactment of the public campaign finance system eight years ago contended it would encourage potential candidates who lacked access to personal wealth or an extensive fundraising base. Based on the results of the past two county elections, the system appears to be helping to fulfill this goal.
In addition to Elrich, three of the four Democratic nominees for at-large council seats who emerged from the 2022 primary — incumbents Gabe Albornoz and Evan Glass, as well as Laurie-Anne Sayles — utilized public financing. Glass qualified for the $250,000 maximum; Albornoz received $215,900 in matching funds, and Sayles tapped into the program for about $126,200.
Six of the seven Democratic primaries for district council seats were contested, and four of the winners of those contests — Marilyn Balcombe in District 2, Kate Stewart in District 4, Kristin Mink in District 5, and Natali Fani-Gonzalez in District 6 — utilized the public finance system. Balcombe, Stewart and Mink each qualified for the $125,000 maximum; Fani-Gonzalez received nearly $95,300.
In 2018, Elrich along with all four of the at-large council members and two of the five district members were elected in campaigns largely underwritten by public matching funds.
Part 2: Eight Democrats so far tap into public campaign funding for 2022 general election
With five weeks until Election Day, the county’s public finance system has laid out about $163,400 for the fall campaign, according to a Sept. 30 report from the Montgomery County Department of Finance.
This year’s total to date is barely 15 percent of the final general election tab for public campaign funding in 2018, which came to nearly $1.078 million.
The difference appears largely attributable to a 2022 general election contest for county executive that is attracting less attention than the three-way race four years ago—when Democrat Marc Elrich and Republican Robin Ficker qualified for nearly $940,000 in public funds, with $684,400 going to Elrich and more than $255,300 for Ficker. (Then-Council Member Nancy Floreen, running as an independent candidate, did not receive public financing, but benefited from a nearly half-million-dollar effort by a business-run political action committee.)
Elrich, seeking a second term as executive this year, through late last week had received just $81,600 in public funding for the general election — in which he faces a modestly funded opponent in former Republican County Chairman Reardon “Sully” Sullivan.
Elrich — who has raised about $17,500 in private contributions since the primary to trigger the public subsidies, according to available disclosure reports –Tuesday filed a request for another $4,500 in public funding. That would bring his public matching total to date to $86,100.
County executive candidates are eligible for the same maximum amount of public funds, $750,000, as in the primary. (The maximum allocation for at-large and district county council candidates — $250,000 and $125,000 – also remains in place for the general election.)
Sullivan did not seek to qualify for public matching funds, and, according to the latest reports filed with the State Board of Elections, raised about $15,100 during July and August – with about $10,000 of this coming from Sullivan himself.
Four Democratic nominees for district council seats have tapped into public funding so far in the fall election, with the largest amount — nearly $24,000 — going to Marilyn Balcombe, the party’s nominee in District 2. Balcombe leveraged these public matching funds by raising about $8,300 in private contributions.
District 2, in the northwestern section of the county, has been targeted by Republicans in recent elections due to a lesser Democratic registration advantage than other areas of Montgomery.
Dan Cuda, Balcombe’s Republican opponent — who has not qualified for public matching funds — has raised about $19,000 in private donations since launching his candidacy last spring, according to his latest disclosure report filed at the end of August. Cuda was not opposed in the July primary, while Balcombe defeated two opponents to win the Democratic nomination.
Three other Democrats seeking council seats – all in districts with heavy Democratic registration edges – have tapped into the public matching fund program, but for significantly less than Balcombe. They include Kate Stewart in District 4, who has received about $5,250; Kristin Mink in District 5, nearly $5,000; and Natali Fani-Gonzalez in District 6, $400.
In this year’s council at-large contest, none of the three Republican candidates –- Christopher Fiotes, Lenard Lieber and Dwight Patel — have sought public funding. All three are mounting thinly funded campaigns with private donations. As of Aug. 30, Patel reported raising about $2,600; Fiotes and Lieber have filed affidavits saying they plan to raise and spend less than $1,000.
Of the three Democratic at-large council candidates – all heavily favored to win in November –participating in the public funding program, incumbent Evan Glass has raised sufficient private donations to trigger receipt of $42,200 in matching funds, according to the latest county report.
Glass’ fellow incumbent, Gabe Albornoz, has so far received about $4,000 in public funding for the general election campaign. (The remaining at-large Democratic incumbent seeking re-election, Will Jawando, is not participating in the program this year.) The one non-incumbent on the Democratic at-large slate, Laurie-Anne Sayles, has received $1,000 in public matching funds to date.
Riemer’s disclosure report, three weeks late, shows him slightly outraising Elrich in primary
After a delay of three weeks, at-large County Council Member Hans Riemer – an unsuccessful candidate for county executive in the July Democratic primary – late last month filed a required financial disclosure report accounting for his spending in the closing weeks of the campaign.
Riemer reported spending $316,250 in the period from July 4 through Aug. 23, with virtually all of that expense incurred in the two-week period leading up to the July 19 primary. That brought Riemer’s total campaign spending since launching his candidacy in May 2021 to more than $1.06 million.
Riemer slightly outspent the primary winner, incumbent County Executive Marc Elrich, who reported expenditures of about $1 million. Both Elrich and Riemer tapped into the county’s public campaign finance system.
Riemer raised nearly $320,000 in private contributions – about $70,000 more than Elrich – for a total approaching $1.07 million in the course of the campaign. Both candidates raised enough in private funds to collect the maximum of $750,000 in public matching funds allocated per election to each county executive candidate participating in the program.
Elrich defeated the second-place finisher, businessman David Blair – who spent a record $6.55 million, most it from Blair’s own pocket –by a mere 32 votes. The final results showed Elrich with 39.2% of the vote, with Blair at 39.18% and Riemer a distant third with 19.9%.
Elrich and Blair filed their post-primary reports by the Aug. 30 deadline, but Riemer’s report was not filed until Sept. 20. Riemer last month attributed the delay to efforts by his campaign to resolve a discrepancy involving credit card processing fees.
Riemer’s campaign has filed a request with the State Board of Elections asking that $735 in fines imposed due to his late filing be waived. The board plans to consider the request at its next meeting, scheduled for late October.
Approximately two-thirds of the total expenditures of the Riemer campaign – about $655,000 – went for campaign ads, with about $540,000 of that going toward TV spots and most of the rest for online ads. Riemer spent about $195,000 on TV advertising in the final two weeks of the primary campaign, about one-third of what was spent by Blair during that period.
Riemer reported $8,200 in leftover funds as of the end of August.
Louis Peck, a contributing editor for Bethesda Magazine, can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.