2022 | Politics

Updated: David Blair digs deep into his own pocket, spending $2.95M in bid for county executive

Incumbent Marc Elrich has received $407K in public funding and Hans Riemer nearly $358K, as each requests more

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Montgomery County executive candidates Marc Elrich, David Blair and Hans Riemer

File photo

This story was updated at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday to include details from the campaign finance disclosure report filed by the campaign of County Executive Marc Elrich late Tuesday.

Multimillionaire businessman David Blair is continuing to spend his own money at a torrid pace in his second attempt in four years to be elected Montgomery County executive, according to newly filed campaign disclosure reports.

In a report filed electronically with the State Board of Elections, Blair indicated he had made personal loans to his campaign totaling just over $2.95 million since launching his candidacy in March 2021. Of this total, $1.85 million was put into the campaign between the beginning of this year and last week, according to the latest report. That is in addition to an earlier loan of $1.1 million that Blair reported making in a filing this past January.

All told, the Blair campaign has reported expenditures of $3.19 million in the past 15 months, with a little more than $2.11 million of that coming during the past five months. Nearly $1 million of the latter figure was spent on media advertising, with the Blair campaign reporting more than $530,000 for television advertising so far.

All candidates for state and local office in Maryland were required to file pre-primary campaign finance disclosure reports at the State Board of Elections by midnight Tuesday. The campaign of County Executive Marc Elrich – who defeated Blair by just 77 votes in the Democratic primary in 2018 – filed its report late Tuesday, while the third major Democratic candidate for county executive in the July 19 primary, County Council Member Hans Riemer, filed this past weekend.

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

Unlike Blair, both Elrich and Riemer are relying on the county’s four-year old public campaign finance system – which limits the amount of private donations a candidate can accept in return for eligibility to receive public campaign funds.

Since Elrich’s previous filing in April, he has raised just under $51,000 in private donations of no more than $250 per individual contributor – the maximum allowed under the county’s public campaign finance law. During his bid for a second term, Elrich all told has raised $183,000 in private contributions, with he has leveraged into receipt of nearly $407,000 in public campaign funds.

Based on latest private fundraising efforts, Elrich requested another $143,000 in public funds in the report filed Tuesday – which would bring him to a total of $550,000 in public funding to date. County executive candidates participating in the public finance program are eligible for a maximum of $750,000 in public funds per election.

Elrich received the $750,000 maximum in winning the primary four years ago. This time around, Riemer appears to be outpacing the incumbent in tapping into the public funding program after Elrich – to the consternation of some supporters – didn’t begin fundraising in earnest until September of last year.

Riemer’s latest report showed that – since the beginning of this year — he had taken in nearly $148,350 in private contributions. Combined with earlier fundraising efforts, his campaign has collected about $284,500 in private contributions since Riemer announced his candidacy a little more than a year ago.

So far, Riemer has leveraged this into receipt of nearly $357,500 in public funding, and, based on his latest filing, has claimed eligibility for another $358,200 in public campaign funds – which would provide him with nearly $716,000 of the $750,000 maximum public subsidy.

The Elrich campaign did enjoy an edge in cash on hand as of early June: It reported having $478,000 in the bank, as compared to $361,400 for Riemer.

In contrast to Blair’s spending of nearly $1 million in media advertising, the Elrich and Riemer campaigns had spent just $5,689 and $8,622, respectively as of early June – primarily for newspaper and online advertising.

That is expected to change as the campaign enters its final stretch: In an email to supporters this week, Riemer aides indicated the expected receipt of additional public campaign funds would enable the launch of a planned media effort. This plan includes TV ad spots on Montgomery County cable systems as well as broadcast stations in the D.C. market.

Blair reported collecting about $80,000 from outside contributors in his latest filing, on top of $300,000 in such donations collected last year. That total is dwarfed, however, by what he has allocated in personal assets to fuel his campaign.

While the $2.95 million he has given to date is labeled as loans, candidates who lend money to their own campaigns rarely receive repayment – with these funds usually ending up as de facto contributions.

Blair set a record in 2018 by spending $5.7 million on his near-miss for the Democratic nomination for county executive, with $5.4 million of that coming from his own pocket.

While he said in an interview late last year that “I can’t imagine” spending as much this time around, his spending to date already has guaranteed his current bid will be at least the second most expensive campaign ever for Montgomery County executive – eclipsing the $2.7 million spent by then-Council Member Steve Silverman in a 2006 run for the post.

In contrast to the $3.19 million spent by the Blair campaign to date, the Elrich campaign’s total expenses through the first week in June came to less than 4% of that total: $111,600. Riemer reported total expenditures of nearly $280,000.

The difference in the size and scope of the Blair campaign and those of his two leading opponents is underscored by the respective salary budgets.

While the Blair campaign has had a total payroll of $1.55 million over the past 15 months, Elrich has spent just $55,000 on campaign salaries during his reelection bid; the comparable figure for the Riemer campaign is $175,750.

The size of the Blair campaign staff is difficult to discern from its campaign disclosure reports. Most salary payments are simply listed as being routed through Paychex – the payroll service retained to compensate Blair staffers – without specifically identifying individual staffers.

The latest Elrich campaign report lists just two paid campaign staffers – a campaign manager and a second aide recently hired. Riemer reported having five paid campaign staffers, including a campaign manager, as of early June.

Also running in the Democratic county executive primary is Gaithersburg-based technology entrepreneur Peter James, who filed an affidavit with the State Board of Elections saying he does “not intend to receive contributions or make expenditures in the cumulative amount of $1,000 or more” after entering the race in late March.

In a county with a 4-1 Democratic registration edge, victory in the Democratic primary is generally tantamount to election in November. However, there is a primary for the Republican county executive nomination between Reardon Sullivan, chair of the Montgomery County Republican Committee, and Friendship Heights attorney Shelly Skolnick, a frequent candidate for office in recent years.

Sullivan, who got into the race just before the April 15 filing deadline, reported raising about $23,000 and spending about $13,000 – with the biggest portion of that, $6,100, for online advertising. Skolnick filed an affidavit declaring he does not intend to raise or spend more than $1,000.