2016 | Politics

With Eight Weeks Until Primary, Trone Nearing $3 Million Mark in Spending on TV and Radio Advertising

Spending could put him on pace to match or exceed recent self-funded campaigns

David Trone before a Democratic candidates' forum Sunday in Bethesda

By Aaron Kraut

In announcing his candidacy for Congress in late January, Total Wine & More co-owner David Trone of Potomac vowed to spend “whatever it takes” to come out on top in the race for the Democratic nomination in District 8.

With today marking exactly eight weeks until the April 26 primary, it is clear Trone is putting his money where his mouth is.

Although he will not be required to file the first formal accounting of his spending with the Federal Election Commission until mid-April, it appears that Trone—in a five-week period beginning in late January and extending through March 7—already has spent about $2.9 million on television and radio advertising in his self-funded campaign.

The lion’s share of this is for ad spots on the four over-the-air broadcast stations in the Washington market affiliated with ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. In the past month, Trone has spent about $2.3 million for such advertising, according to knowledgeable sources and publicly available data that the Federal Communications Commission requires to be posted online.

Trone’s latest 30-second ad, designed to underscore his support for gun control measures, began airing today.

His expenditures in the broadcast category are more than four times the approximately $485,000 that available data show has been spent by former Marriott International executive Kathleen Matthews of Chevy Chase, the only other District 8 candidate now running broadcast TV ads. Matthews has been on the air since early February.

While documentation on cable TV advertising is less readily available, sources said Trone has so far spent around $190,000 on cable TV advertising and about $400,000 on ads on five Washington area radio stations, with the largest portion of those buys coming on all-news WTOP radio. Combined with broadcast advertising, that brings Trone’s spending on TV and radio to $2.9 million.

Matthews is said to have spent about $70,000 on cable TV ads and $85,000 on radio; her campaign went on WTOP in early January, and plans to remain there until the primary. With broadcast advertising, this brings Matthews’ total spending on TV and radio to date to about $640,000. In the latest FEC reports, filed Jan. 31 and covering the last three months of 2015, Matthews reported having about $1.15 million in her campaign treasury as of Dec. 31.

Sources close to the campaign of another leading contender, state Sen. Jamie Raskin of Takoma Park, said Raskin has no immediate plans to go on television. However, Raskin, who is relying on strong support from among a network of grassroots activists, has shown the flag three times in recent weeks with glossy fliers mailed to households with enrolled Democratic voters.

Such mailings can involve significant expense in light of the costs of printing and postage, although it is difficult to gauge how much is being spent on such efforts until the next round of FEC reports are filed mid-April. Raskin reported $870,000 in his campaign treasury as of Dec. 31.

Aides to Matthews, Raskin and Trone declined to comment on recent advertising efforts and their estimated costs. Political campaigns are traditionally reluctant to discuss such matters publicly, out of fear of telegraphing their voter-targeting strategies to opponents.

For his part, Trone has sent out as many as eight pieces of mail to District 8 voters since entering the race, including several large multi-page glossy fliers. One of his latest pieces appears targeted to Jewish voters—with a section entitled “My Support of Israel” and highlighting an award that Trone is scheduled to receive from the B’nai Brith Anti-Defamation League. Trone’s direct mail consultant, Jim Crounse, is known in Democratic political circles for having helped to engineer Bill de Blasio’s come-from-behind victory in the 2013 New York mayoral race.

It could not be determined how many of the approximately 140,000 Democratic households in District 8 are receiving the Raskin or Trone mailings. Matthews has yet to send out any direct mail pieces.

Pending April’s FEC filing, it is difficult to know what Trone has spent on media other than TV and radio, including digital ads as well as his “snail mail” pieces. It does raise the question of whether, at his current rate of spending, Trone could end up exceeding, or at least coming close, to the all-time spending record for self-funded House candidates nationally.

A chart compiled last week by the Seventh State blog, utilizing research by the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, shows a 1998 candidate, Democrat Phil Maloof of New Mexico, as the largest self-funder ever in a House race.

But Maloof, who spent nearly $12.65 million, actually ran two races in the same year, losing a special election campaign and later in the general election.

Second on the list is Democrat James Humphreys of West Virginia, who spent almost $7.8 million in 2002.

The list of the 10 top House self-funders ever (five Democrats, four Republicans, and one independent) underscores that it is not an automatic path to success: Only three were victorious. The biggest spending successful self-funder of recent years is current Colorado Democratic Rep. Jared Polis, an Internet entrepreneur, who won his initial 2008 election bid after spending about $6 million from his own pocket.

In terms of self-funding, Trone already has surpassed Democratic Rep. John Delaney, a fellow Potomac resident who holds the seat in neighboring District 6. Delaney spent about $2.37 million of his personal fortune, accumulated as a financial services entrepreneur, to first win election in 2012.

Besides Trone, Matthews and Raskin, it remains unclear how much the other half-dozen Democratic contenders will be able to do in terms of broadcast or mail advertising in the closing weeks of the campaign.

Both Raskin and Del. Kumar Barve of Rockville have had preliminary conversations with Comcast Spotlight, which books advertising seen by Montgomery County subscribers to FIOS, DIRECTV and RCN as well as Comcast Cable. But neither has booked time to run ads on the cable systems.

Cable TV advertising is significantly less expensive than its over-the-air counterpart, since cable spots can be tightly targeted to District 8 voters and to the various demographic groups of which they are a part—through ad spots adjacent to different kinds of programming. A 30-second over-the-air spot going out to the entire Washington market of 2.4 million households—nearly 95 percent of them outside of the 8th District—can cost as much as $15,000. A similar spot on a Montgomery-based cable system can be purchased for several hundred dollars—and, in some instances, as little as $60 to $75.

Trone, now buying on cable TV ads at a rate of about $35,000 per week, and Matthews, now spending at a rate of $15,000 to $18,000 weekly for such spots, are likely to ramp up their spending after March 12. That’s the 45-day mark prior to Primary Day, and it is during that period that discounted ad rates become available to political candidates.

For targeting purposes, Comcast Spotlight divides Montgomery County into three sectors: Montgomery East, Montgomery Central, and Montgomery North. Trone’s and Matthews’ cable ads are running in the first two zones, but not in Montgomery North, which lies more in District 6 than District 8. Both candidates have also bought time on cable systems in Carroll and Frederick counties, where about 20 percent of the 8th District’s Democrats reside.

Barve’s campaign reported a little over $295,000 on hand as of Dec. 31. The other candidates who filed FEC disclosure statements in January—Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez of Chevy Chase, former Obama administration officials Will Jawando of Silver Spring and Joel Rubin of Chevy Chase and David Anderson, an official of a Washington-based seminar and internship program—reported cash on hand amounts ranging from $215,000 for Jawando to $47,000 for Anderson. The remaining candidate in the Democratic contest, former biotech industry official Dan Bolling of Bethesda, did not declare his candidacy until early February, and has not yet had to file with the FEC.     

While Rubin, who entered the Democratic race in early October, showed a little bit less than $72,000 in his campaign treasury as of the end of last year, he is also benefitting from the support of a “Super PAC” entitled “A New Voice for Maryland.” Unlike candidates’ personal campaign committees, there is no limit on the size of contributions that Super PACs can accept from individuals, labor unions or corporations.

The Super PAC reported last week that it has purchased $35,000 in Internet advertising to boost Rubin’s campaign. Available reports show the Super PAC is so far funded entirely by a $100,000 contribution by William Benter, CEO of a Pittsburgh-based medical services firm. Benter is a friend of Rubin, who is originally from Pittsburgh.