Update – March 31 – 2 p.m. – Women Vote!, a Super PAC affiliated with EMILY’s List, late last week began spending money in the 8th Congressional District to boost the candidacy of former Marriott International executive Kathleen Matthews in the Democratic primary to succeed Rep. Chris Van Hollen.
According to new filings with the Federal Election Commission, Women Vote! is spending just over $106,000 on Matthews’ behalf, with $60,000 of this directed to the production and placement of digital media ads, and another $46,000 for mailings. The funding is on top of the nearly $900,000 that Matthews’ own campaign committee is estimated to have spent on TV and radio advertising as of last week.
“After years of reporting on Washington, Kathleen Matthews is ready to make a real difference in Congress,” declares a mail piece reaching 8th District households this week, alluding to Matthews’ years as a local television news reporter and anchor before moving to Marriott. The piece has the appearance of a flier from the Matthews campaign itself, except for a small box in the upper left-hand corner reading: “Paid for by Women Vote!…Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.”
A spokeswoman for EMILY’s List, created three decades ago to push for the election of Democratic women candidates who support abortion rights, was not immediately available for comment Wednesday on whether Women Vote! plans to spend more on Matthews’ behalf prior to the April 26 primary.
The Women Vote! move represents the largest spending effort to date by a Super PAC in the hotly contested 8th District Democratic primary. But Matthews, of Chevy Chase, is not the first candidate in the contest to benefit from the support of a super PAC. State Sen. Jamie Raskin of Takoma Park late last year was endorsed by Mayday, a super PAC created, somewhat paradoxically, during the 2013-2014 election cycle to boost candidates who pledged to reform the system that allowed for creation of super PACs. He also has received support in recent days in the form of a mail piece sent out by a Super PAC affiliated with the American Humanist Association, an organization devoted to promoting and defending atheism. The Freethought Equality Fund, the political arm of the American Humanist Association, had previously endorsed Raskin
In addition, former State Department official Joel Rubin of Chevy Chase has benefitted from a super PAC created with a $100,000 contribution by a friend of Rubin’s from Pittsburgh, where Rubin grew up.
At issue is Citizens United v. FEC, a 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court in 2010 that paved the way for Super PACs. Unlike candidate campaign committees, which are limited in the amount they can receive from any individual and are barred from accepting corporate funds, individuals and corporations are allowed to make unlimited donations to Super PACs for “independent expenditures” advocating for or against a particular candidate. By federal law, such independent expenditure activity cannot be coordinated with a candidate’s personal campaign committee.
All nine candidates in the District 8 Democratic contest have repeatedly said that the Citizens United ruling needs to be overturned.
EMILY’s List, which endorsed Matthews last fall, already had been spending heavily in Maryland during the current campaign cycle through its Super PAC. Women Vote! has devoted at least $2.4 million to an ad campaign supporting Rep. Donna Edwards of Prince George’s County, who is opposing Van Hollen for the Democratic nomination to succeed retiring Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski.
Nearly $1.4 million of this has come during the past month and is credited with helping to keep Edwards competitive with Van Hollen, who has outraised Edwards by a wide margin when the fundraising totals of their personal campaign committees are compared.
Likewise, the recent assistance from Women Vote! provides some breathing space for Matthews, who has been outspent by an estimated 4-1 margin on radio and TV advertising by Total Wine & More co-owner David Trone of Potomac since he entered the race for the District 8 Democratic nomination two months ago.
While Matthews had outraised all of her opponents, including Raskin, in outside contributions through the end of 2015, her fundraising advantage has been neutralized by Trone–whose self-funded campaign, so far, has spent an estimated $4 million just on TV and radio. Trone has sought to make not accepting money from PACs and lobbyists a major selling point of his campaign.
The disclosure of the Women Vote! spending on behalf of Matthews was triggered by an FEC requirement that all PACs report aggregate expenditures exceeding $10,000 on behalf of a candidate within 48 hours of when they are made. The next accounting of contributions and spending by candidate campaign committees in District 8, covering the first quarter of 2016, is due into the FEC on April 14, two weeks prior to the primary.
The most recent FEC report, covering the last three months of 2015, showed Matthews with just over $1.1 million in her campaign treasury as of Dec. 31. It appears that Matthews has spent most, if not all of this, since January. Her estimated expenditure of $900,000 to date for TV and radio and advertising alone does not cover the cost of digital media advertising, traditional mailings and other campaign expenditures.
While it will not be known until next month’s FEC filing how much more in contributions Matthews has been able to raise since the start of the year, her rate of spending has prompted speculation in rival camps that she may join Trone in dipping into her personal assets. Financial disclosure statements filed by the candidates in the race show Matthews and her husband, MSNBC talk show host Chris Matthews, with assets of at least $22.5 million.
Matthews has not ruled out doing so, telling the Washington Post earlier this month, “…I certainly believe enough in my own campaign that if it comes down to the wire I think it would be reasonable to put my own money in.” Matthews campaign manager Ethan Susseles declined further comment Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Mayday Super PAC was clearly taking aim at Matthews when officials of that group appeared in the district last fall to endorse Raskin. It led to a verbal skirmish, in which Matthews fired back at the super PAC for criticizing her as a “corporate lobbyist.” Matthews said she was never a registered lobbyist during her almost decade-long tenure at Marriott, although her portfolio as an executive did include overseeing government affairs matters.
It remains unclear how much effort the Mayday PAC will make on Raskin’s behalf in the four weeks remaining until the April 26 primary. The chair of that group, Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout, appeared in District 8 in January to speak and boost the Raskin campaign. But Teachout has subsequently stepped away from the leadership of the group to mount her own campaign for an open congressional seat in New York.
In visiting the district last fall to endorse Raskin, Mayday Super PAC officials spoke of raising $100,000 and recruiting 250 volunteers to boost the Raskin effort. But the only expenditure on Raskin’s behalf listed in Mayday’s latest FEC filing is for $675 for graphic services, apparently in conjunction with a Web ad run for the group. A Mayday Super PAC official did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
However, last week’s mailing on behalf of Raskin by the Freethought Equality Super PAC, first reported by the Maryland Scramble politics blog, stirred some controversy over why the cost of the mailing had not been reported to the FEC. But Bishop McNeill, who manages the Freethought Equality Super PAC, Thursday told Bethesda Beat that the mailing had not exceeded the $10,000 threshold set by the FEC for reporting of such expenditures within 48 hours. While acknowledging the cost had come “close” to the $10,000 level, McNeill added, “We did not go over that threshold.”
McNeill said he anticipates the Super PAC to file with the FEC when the next mailing on behalf of Raskin goes out, which he expects to occur not long before the start of early voting on April 14. He also said the Freethought Equality Super PAC expects to spend in excess of $50,000 in independent expenditures on Raskin’s behalf prior to the April 26 primary.
The other candidate with Super PAC support, Rubin, of Chevy Chase, is benefitting from expenditures by A New Voice For Maryland, which was created two weeks before Rubin entered the race in October. So far the Super PAC has been funded entirely by a $100,000 donation from William Benter, who heads a Pittsburgh-based medical services firm. FEC filings through mid-March show that about $37,000 of this has been spent on digital advertising to boost Rubin’s candidacy.
Besides Matthews, Raskin, Rubin and Trone, the other candidates in the Democratic primary contest include Dels. Kumar Barve of Rockville and Ana Sol Gutierrez of Chevy Chase; former Obama White House official Will Jawando of Silver Spring; David Anderson of Potomac, an official of a Washington-based seminar and internship program; and former biotech industry official Dan Bolling of Bethesda.
There is a five-way primary for the Republican nomination in District 8, which includes parts of Carroll and Frederick counties as well as Montgomery County. But the winner of the Democratic primary next month will be the odds-on favorite to succeed Van Hollen next year in the heavily Democratic district.
Editor's Note: The above story has been updated March 31 with comments from the manager of the Freethought Equality Super PAC, saying that a recent mailing on behalf of state Sen. Jamie Raskin was not reported to the FEC because it was under the $10,000 threshold that triggers such a filing under FEC rules. The story also has been corrected to note it is the Freethought Equality Fund, the political arm of the American Humanist Association — and not the association itself — that has endorsed Raskin in the District 8 Democratic primary.