The Democratic primary contest for the District 18 seat left open by state Sen. Richard Madaleno’s gubernatorial run has been the most visible—and arguably the nastiest—state legislative race in Montgomery County this year. Reports filed late Friday with the State Board of Elections also show it’s gotten very expensive.
Political activist Dana Beyer of Chevy Chase loaned her state Senate campaign a total of $195,000 during a period of just over three weeks between May 16 and June 10. Combined with loans earlier this year, Beyer—a former eye surgeon—has now pumped $316,000 of her own money into the race as next Tuesday’s primary approaches. That surpasses the $311,000 she loaned herself four years ago in an unsuccessful primary bid to oust Madaleno.
Her chief rival in this year’s primary, Del. Jeff Waldstreicher of Kensington, has not made any personal loans to his campaign—but, thanks to 12 years of incumbency in Annapolis, has built up a war chest that has enabled him to spend heavily in the run-up to Primary Day. In the period from mid-May to mid-June alone, Waldstreicher spent more than $120,500, most of it on mail advertising.
Still, that was less than two-thirds of the $193,000 that Beyer reported spending during the same period—with nearly $100,000 of that for campaign field staff and another $67,000 for various forms of media advertising. All told, since the beginning of the campaign, Beyer has spent more than $354,000 and Waldstreicher about $182,800—for a combined total of nearly $537,000.
Such levels of spending have been overshadowed by this year’s primary contests for county executive and the 6th Congressional District—where, respectively, wealthy businessmen David Blair and David Trone are pouring in millions of their personal fortunes to ensure victory. Nonetheless, the disclosure reports underscore the escalating cost in recent years of running for the Maryland General Assembly—a part-time position that pays a little more than $50,000 annually—in jurisdictions such as District 16 and District 18, both anchored in the affluent Bethesda/Chevy Chase area.
Unlike races for county executive and County Council, where public campaign financing is available under a four-year old statute, there is no public funding for state legislative races—and that appears unlikely to change soon. Del. Marc Korman—who, along with Del. Ariana Kelly, is seeking re-election in District 16—earlier this year sponsored legislation that would have authorized the county’s public finance system to expand to include races for state Senate and House of Delegates. The measure died in a House committee.
Running for the first time four years ago in District 16—which includes part of Potomac in addition to large portions of Bethesda and Chevy Chase—Korman spent more than $200,000 to capture an open delegate seat, utilizing nearly $70,000 of his own funds. His closest rival, health care organization official Hrant Jamgochian, also spent in excess of $200,000, including about $150,000 of his personal assets. (Jamgochian is seeking a seat on the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee in next week’s primary.)
This year, the leading contenders taking aim at an open delegate seat in District 16, attorney Sara Love and Montgomery Blair High School teacher Samir Paul, together have spent nearly $230,000 with more than two weeks to go until the primary. This total is comprised of more than $133,000 expended by Love and about $95,500 for Paul, and is certain to climb—given that Paul and Love reported $64,300 and $32,900, respectively, remaining in their campaign treasuries as of June 10. Included in the underwriting of these costs was a $50,000 loan by Love to her campaign late last year, and nearly $15,000 by Paul in personal donations to his candidacy.
In both District 16 and District 18—the latter of which extends from Bethesda through Chevy Chase to Silver Spring and includes Garrett Park and Kensington as well as portions of Rockville and Wheaton—there is an eight-way scramble for three delegate nominations. Two of the candidates, former University of Maryland terrorism researcher Mila Johns and former Obama administration official Joel Rubin, both of Chevy Chase, have each loaned their campaign in excess of $100,000 in personal assets.
Johns, who has been in the contest for more than a year, is largely self-financing: She has raised only $18,800 in outside donations. But her expenditures of more than $100,000 have been largely underwritten by $130,000 in personal loans—with the latest loan, for $30,000, coming from her husband, Devin Ellis, in mid-May.
While Johns reported paying off $16,400 of the loans—leaving $113,600 outstanding—most personal loans made by candidates to campaigns are not repaid, and ultimately become de facto donations. Beyer, who ran for delegate in 2006 and 2010 before her bids for state Senate in 2014 and this year, is carrying a total of $812,000 in loans to herself on the campaign books—including the $316,000 loan for her current candidacy.
Rubin has made $103,000 in personal loans to his bid for delegate. While he has raised $50,300 in outside contributions, the loan has allowed him to spend $77,600 so far and still have $75,250 remaining his campaign treasury as of June 10—just over two weeks until the primary. Johns reported $48,400 on hand.
Just behind Johns in cash on hand is public health organization official Leslie Milano of Chevy Chase, who entered the contest late last year and has spent about $25,500. Milano had $46,200 in her treasury, thanks in large measure to a $37,500 loan she has made to her campaign.
With Waldstreicher running for state Senate and Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez leaving to pursue a seat on the County Council, there is only one District 18 incumbent—Del. Al Carr of Kensington—among the crowded field in the delegate contest. The largest number of major organizational endorsements have gone to Carr, Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee Vice Chair Emily Shetty of Kensington, and former congressional aide Jared Solomon of Chevy Chase.
Carr has spent about $41,700 so far, while Shetty and Solomon—who both filed for the race last fall—spent $36,400 and $52,900, respectively. Thanks to stronger fundraising, Solomon reported $39,800 in the bank for the final days of the campaign, as compared to $12,200 for Carr and $4,200 for Shetty, who also made a run for delegate in the 2014 Democratic primary.
The remaining two District 18 contenders, federal contractor Ron Franks of Wheaton and communications manager Helga Luest of Rockville, each have raised less than $10,000 in the course of the campaign. Luest reported $10,500 in expenditures, with a balance of $520 in her campaign treasury. Franks has spent just $5,500, and had $8,700 in cash on hand, thanks in part to a $4,500 loan to himself.
The other candidate in the Senate race besides Beyer and Waldstreicher, business owner Michelle Carhart of Rockville, has spent only $2,500 since jumping in days before the February filing deadline. She has about $6,700 in cash on hand, leveraged by a $5,500 loan.
Beyer, seeking to become the first transgender individual elected to a state Senate seat anywhere in the U.S., had $29,000 on hand, and is presumably in a position to write herself additional checks in the closing days of the primary campaign. Waldstreicher reported more than three times as much, $107,300, in his treasury.
While Beyer has raised nearly $68,000 in outside contributions, more than 80 percent of her candidacy has been self-funded—notwithstanding comments at the outset of her bid that, unlike her 2014 race against Madaleno, she did not intend to self-fund this time around.
“I only self-financed last time because my base, the LGBT community, was also Rich’s base,” Beyer said last October. “I discovered early on that put my friends in a bind. … That’s not an issue now.”
In District 16, much of the spending by Paul—who reported expenditures of $80,000 between mid-May and mid-June alone—and Love has been for mailed appeals to voters.
Some Democratic households have received more than a half-dozen glossy mail pieces from Love’s campaign, and at least five from Paul’s, who is also benefitting from the endorsement of the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA)—of which he is a member. A couple of mail pieces, underwritten by the MCEA, note that Paul as well as incumbents Kelly, Korman and state Sen. Susan Lee—who has no primary opposition—are on the organization’s “Apple Ballot.”
Besides Love, Paul and the incumbents—Korman reported $76,500 in the bank with two weeks to go until the primary, with Kelly sitting on $54,800—the largest amount of campaign spending in the eight-way District 16 Democratic race has come from writer/consultant Nuchhi Currier, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Woman’s National Democratic Club for the past year. Currier moved back to Chevy Chase in early 2017 after a decade of living in the District.
She has raised nearly $98,000—with $20,000 of that donations from Currier and her husband, a retired Washington attorney—and spent about $92,700 during the campaign, reporting $5,100 on hand as of the beginning of last week. Much of Currier’s spending has been on campaign workers and consultants; she does not appear to have mounted a major mail or advertising effort.
Health care professional Jordan Cooper, making a second run for delegate after a 2014 bid, reported raising just under $21,000 and spending $22,600, with $1,900 remaining in his campaign treasury. Cooper is seeking a seat on the county Democratic committee as well as a delegate nomination.
Attorney Joseph Hennessey of Chevy Chase—who announced earlier this year he was dropping out of the contest, only to decide later to stay in to oppose legislation with tax incentives to attract Amazon’s second headquarters—has raised a total of $14,900, spent $5,200, and reported $9,700 on hand. The remaining candidate, certified nursing assistant Marc Lande, has filed affidavits saying he has not raised or spent more than $1,000.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect a change made by Helga Luest's campaign committee to its original filing. The committee initially filed indicating a negative balance in its treasury, when in fact it had cash on hand.