The liberal political group Progressive Maryland is targeting Democratic Montgomery County Executive candidate David Blair with a month-long campaign designed to highlight his former Republican Party affiliation and what the organization believes is a questionable business record.
Blair, a wealthy Potomac businessman who founded and later sold the pharmacy benefit management company Catalyst Health Solutions, has responded by describing the attacks as smears typical of the end of a campaign. The primary election is June 26.
The nonprofit group first unveiled its strategy to target Blair at a forum Thursday afternoon in Rockville, where it began distributing fliers that proclaimed “David Blair is not one of us!” and asserts that Blair is attempting to buy the election.
Progressive Maryland is a statewide political organization that is affiliated with a number of employee unions and advocates in support of issues such as a $15 minimum wage, public campaign financing, police reform and protecting the environment.
The group’s flier describes Blair as a “fake Democrat” who was formerly registered as a Republican—a fact previously reported by Bethesda Beat—and that he failed to vote in Democratic primaries in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012—a record previously reported by The Washington Post.
A photo of the Progressive Maryland flier. Provided photo.
“We’re hoping to educate and inform voters of the real record of David Blair and what we feel are the dangers of having another millionaire with no real government experience,” Larry Stafford, executive director of Progressive Maryland, said in an interview Thursday. “We’ve seen this picture before with our current president. We’ll be opposing him from here on out.”
He added that the group plans to continue to oppose him using voter outreach and at forums throughout the final month of the campaign.
Blair is running against five Democratic opponents: County Council members Roger Berliner, George Leventhal and Marc Elrich as well as state Del. Bill Frick (D-Bethesda) and Rose Krasnow, the former deputy director of the county planning department.
Blair has donated to or loaned his campaign about $1.9 million and spent about the same amount since launching his bid in October—more than double the amount that any of his opponents have spent. Blair’s funds have been used to buy television ads as well as social media and other outreach.
The Progressive Maryland flier also references a $15 million settlement agreement that Blair’s former company Catalyst Health Solutions approved in 2017. The company was a defendant in a class action lawsuit alleging insurance fraud related to catastrophic health insurance marketed by its subsidiary business Health Extras—the name of the company before it was renamed Catalyst in 2008. The lawsuit was first filed in 2013.
Catalyst and associated insurance companies named as defendants in the class action lawsuit admitted no wrongdoing as part of the settlement. The settlement related to issues of improperly marketing insurance that occurred while Blair was CEO, although he left the company in 2012, five years before the suit was settled. The lawyers, plaintiffs and defendants involved in the case agreed to “make no statements … to the press or any other public statements that describe this settlement,” according to the agreement.
Blair told Bethesda Beat in an interview earlier this month that he believes Catalyst and the other companies named as defendants in the lawsuit settled the case as a way to move on.
“They were probably racking up millions in legal fees fighting it,” Blair said. “That’s generally why people settle these claims and admit no wrongdoing. It’s just a nuisance.”
In a statement Wednesday, Blair described the accusations from Progressive Maryland as “attacks and smears, misrepresentation and spin.”
“My campaign is built on creating jobs, improving schools and building a more progressive community,” Blair said. “I trust the people of Montgomery County to see through the attacks and choose a positive way to move us forward.”
Laura Evans Manatos, a spokeswoman for Blair, said in an email that Blair’s ad campaign provides a way to enable voters to get to know him.
“That does not mean he hasn’t been pounding the pavement as hard, if not harder than any other candidate,” Manatos wrote. “He is out meeting constituents at every opportunity, knocking on doors, shaking hands at Metro stations, holding hundreds of meet and greets, attending parades, places of worship … earning one vote at a time. David is not ‘buying’ this election.”
Elrich, who has been endorsed by Progressive Maryland, said Tuesday he has not spent any campaign funds on opposition research and it was never his intention to do so.
“I can’t say I don’t agree with them,” Elrich said about the organization’s efforts. “I don’t think he’s one of us … . All of [the candidates] who aren’t Blair benefit from this—it doesn’t necessarily benefit me.”
He likened Blair to President Donald Trump—“I think settling [a lawsuit] and then putting gag orders on the people you settle with doesn’t look good,” Elrich said. “It’s something Donald Trump would do.”
The Progressive Maryland flier includes an authority line with the name Progressive Maryland Liberation Alliance PAC. That political action committee was organized March 30 and is chaired by Stafford, according to state Board of Election records.