In Maryland, Political Money Flows Ahead Of Upcoming Elections

Apr 25, 2016
Originally published on April 26, 2016 4:08 pm
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Presidential campaigns have been throwing money into tomorrow's Maryland primaries. And for such a small state, there's plenty of cash, and House and Senate races too, including super PACs putting ads on TV. One House candidate in the state is spending more personal cash than any other federal candidate nationwide - oh, except for Donald Trump. NPR's Peter Overby has more.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: That second-only-to-Trump candidate is businessman David Trone, a Democrat and obviously a millionaire. He's given his campaign nearly $13 million so far for a budget more than five times as large as his closest rival. Like Donald Trump, David Trone presents his personal wealth as a virtue.

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DAVID TRONE: There's a reason I'm not taking a cent from PACs, lobbyists and corporations. I'd rather spend my own money than owe anything to them. This commercial is bought and paid for. I won't be.

OVERBY: The contest is in the 8th District, a Democratic stronghold bordering Washington, D.C. Two other candidates might have the cash to compete with Trone. Both attacked big money.

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KATHLEEN MATTHEWS: In the race for Congress, I don't believe that big money can buy votes, not in our district.

OVERBY: This ad is from Kathleen Matthews, a former D.C. news anchor and business executive. Her husband is MSNBC host Chris Matthews. She's put half a million dollars into her campaign which now has about $2.6 million. State Senator Jamie Raskin has raised about $2 million. He's a longtime advocate of restricting political money, as this campaign video points out.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Because my vote is earned, not bought.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Because grassroots power can stop big money.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Because Jamie has always been progressive.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Because, literally, Jamie Raskin wrote the book on campaign finance reform.

OVERBY: David Lublin is a political scientist at American University. He also writes the Seventh State blog about Maryland politics. He lives in Montgomery County, the liberal heart of the district. He said this primary is ironic.

DAVID LUBLIN: Montgomery County has always prided itself so much on being this good government county, very ethical and very reformist. And yet our congressional race is setting new records for money.

OVERBY: And that's made money a campaign issue.

LUBLIN: The disagreements on issues are often relatively small, and so money's so important because it's all about getting known and getting known in a positive way.

OVERBY: The Democrat Senate primary isn't nearly as positive, and a lot of that is due to super PACs. Its Maryland's first open-seat Senate race in a decade. Congressman Chris Van Hollen is giving up the 8th District seat for this. He faces Congresswoman Donna Edwards from the district next door.

His campaign is outspending hers, but super PACs have spent five and a half million dollars so far, and 70 percent of that is on Edwards' side. One pro-Edwards ad tried to pull President Obama into the debate. It's from a super PAC called Working for Us, funded mainly by a branch of the pro-women abortion rights group Emily's List.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: The NRA and its campaign cash are what stands between us and gun reform.

BARACK OBAMA: Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Chris Van Hollen met with NRA lobbyists to craft a loophole that would let the NRA...

OVERBY: Working for Us had to edit Obama out of the spot when the White House complained. Among the pro-Van Hollen super PACs is the Committee for Maryland's Progress, which is funded mostly by two unions.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: We need a senator who does more than talk, but Donna Edwards was ranked one of the least effective members of Congress.

OVERBY: All of these Democratic candidates are on record for reducing the flow of political money, but that's on hold right now as they push forward to primary day. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.