U.S. Rep.-elect David Trone contributed another $1.5 million out of his own pocket in the final three weeks of his successful congressional bid in District 6, according to post-election disclosure reports filed late Thursday with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
Trone’s 11th hour infusion of cash—which included a $400,000 donation the day before the Nov. 6 election—brings his total of direct personal contributions during the course of the campaign to nearly $14.25 million, a national record for a self-funded congressional candidate. It surpasses the previous record of $13.4 million—set by Trone himself two years earlier in an unsuccessful run for the Democratic congressional nomination in neighboring District 8.
But the Potomac businessman’s direct donations to his District 6 candidacy do not include another $3.25 million that he made in personal loans. All told, he pumped in a total of $17.5 million of his personal fortune in emerging from an eight-way District 6 Democratic primary last June, and going on to defeat Republican nominee Amie Hoeber in last month’s general election.
While, in theory, the $3.25 million in personal loans could be repaid to Trone from future fundraising, loans from candidates to their own campaigns are rarely reimbursed—and frequently end up written off as donations.
During the entire 2017-2018 election cycle, Trone—who declined to accept funds from political action committees (PACs)—raised about $550,000 from outside individual contributors. Combined with his personal donations, the Trone campaign reported spending more than $18 million for the entire cycle, with almost $2.2 million of this taking place during the Oct. 18 to Nov. 26 period covered by the latest FEC filing.
The large majority of the latest spending appears to have been for a closing ad blitz that Trone underwrote on broadcast TV stations in the Washington, D.C., market. In the three weeks leading up to Election Day, Trone reported spending $1.35 million for “paid communications” to Washington, D.C.-based Canal Partners Media, which handled TV buys for the Trone campaign. Combined with $1.6 million that Trone previously reported spending on paid TV spots in the first half of October, Trone spent nearly $3 million for TV advertising in just the final five weeks of the campaign.
On top of this, Trone reported $230,000 for “paid communications” spent with Pennsylvania-based AMS Communications, which handled much of his direct mail, during the campaign’s final phase.
Trone’s spending in the closing weeks overwhelmed the $1.1 million that Hoeber reported her personal campaign committee had spent during the entire District 6 contest.
She eschewed more expensive broadcast TV ads in the Washington market in favor of cable TV and digital advertising in the district, which extends 200 miles from Potomac and Gaithersburg to the western edge of the Maryland panhandle—with about half of District 6 voters residing in Montgomery County. Of about $180,000 spent in total during the final three weeks of the campaign, Hoeber reported $100,000 spent on TV and another $35,000 for digital ads.
Hoeber—a Potomac-based national security consultant—also largely self-funded her campaign, albeit on a far more modest scale than Trone, co-owner of a nationwide retail chain of alcohol beverage stores. Hoeber made $230,000 in direct personal contributions to her campaign, including $50,000 a week prior to Election Day. She also reported making $550,000 in personal loans, for a total of nearly $780,000 directed to her candidacy this year.
This does not include another $450,000 in loans from the candidate that Hoeber’s committee still has on the books from her unsuccessful bid in 2016 to oust current District 6 Rep. John Delaney. Delaney opted not to seek re-election this year, and will leave Congress early next month to focus on a longshot bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
However, the $1.1 million in spending by Hoeber’s personal campaign committee during the 2018 contest does not include another $1.35 million spent on her behalf by a couple of so-called “Super PACs,” largely for radio and digital advertising. In turn, these two committees—the Defending Main Street Super PAC Inc., and the Value In Electing Women Political Action Committee (VIEW PAC)—reported receiving a total of $1.8 million in contributions from Hoeber’s husband, telecommunications executive Mark Epstein.
Unlike the restrictions placed on candidates’ personal campaign committees, independent expenditure Super PACs can accept unlimited donations from individuals as well as corporations and labor unions. But they are barred by law from coordinating their activities with the campaigns of candidates that they are expending funds to support.
VIEW PAC, which is focused on electing Republican women to office, reported spending $900,000 to support Hoeber’s candidacy, with Epstein donating $1.1 million to the group. The Defending Main Street Super PAC, which directs its resources to backing Republicans running in so-called “purple” districts, spent $450,000 on Hoeber’s behalf and reported receiving $700,000 from Epstein.
Trone reported having just $6,700 remaining in his campaign treasury as of the end of November, while Hoeber’s personal campaign committee had $28,300 still on hand.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect that AMS Communications handled much of the direct mail for the Trone campaign during its final phase.