Marc Elrich (left), David Blair (center), and Hans Riemer (right) Credit: File Photos

Businessman David Blair has loaned his campaign another $1.85 million in recent weeks – bringing to a total of $4.8 million the amount for which Blair has reached into his own pocket to underwrite his second attempt in four years to win the Democratic nomination for Montgomery County executive.

During a period that covered a little less than four weeks from June 8 to July 3, the Blair campaign spent more than $1.87 million, according to campaign finance disclosure reports filed Friday with the State Board of Elections. More than $1 million of that was spent on the television advertising blitz that Blair has mounted on broadcast stations in the Washington, D.C., market, as well as on cable TV systems in the county.

This latest installment brought Blair’s total overall expenditures during the 2022 campaign to nearly $5.07 million when there were nearly two and a half weeks to go until the July 19 primary – putting him on course to equal or exceed the $5.7 million that he spent in 2018, when he lost the Democratic primary to current County Executive Marc Elrich by just 77 votes.

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

The $5.7 million in 2018 – $5.4 million of which was from Blair’s personal assets – set a new spending record for a county executive race, exceeding the previous high of $2.7 million spent by then-County Council Member Steve Silverman in a bid for the Democratic nod in 2006.

Blair is far outspending his two major Democratic rivals – Elrich and at-large County Council Member Hans Riemer, who are utilizing the county’s public campaign finance system adopted prior to the 2018 election.

Through the beginning of July, Riemer had spent a total of $640,000 on his campaign, with the large majority of that, $389,000, coming since early June; Elrich’s total 2022 spending as of July 3 was just under $607,000, with more than two-thirds of that, $410,000, occurring in recent weeks.

The recent uptick in their spending has come as both Elrich and Riemer started paid television efforts, joining Blair – who began running paid TV spots in mid-May.

Through small private donations and matching public funds, Elrich and Riemer have each raised about one-fifth of the amount that Blair has spent so far, according to their latest filings.

Riemer has qualified for and received the $750,000 maximum in public matching funds that county executive candidates are allowed under the county’s public campaign finance statute. To be eligible for public matching funds, a candidate must limit individual private donations to $250 per person, and cannot accept corporate or political action committee contributions.

Between nearly $305,000 collected in private donations and the $750,000 public match, Riemer’s campaign has taken in just over $1.05 million as the primary campaign enters the homestretch.

Elrich so far has raised approximately $250,000 in private contributions, matched by just under $698,000 in public funds. Under the public campaign finance system, private donations of less than $150 can be matched at varying rates of up to $6 in public funding for each private dollar received.

In his latest report, Elrich said he was eligible for another $52,000 in matching funds, which would bring him up to the $750,000 maximum public match. If his request is granted, Elrich would have collected a total of approximately $1 million in private and public campaign funding.

While the $4.8 million in personal assets that Blair has put into his campaign are technically loans, candidates who lend money to their own campaigns are rarely repaid – with such funds generally reclassified as contributions at some future point. So far, Blair is self-funding more than 90 percent of the cost of his campaign, supplemented by about $400,000 in contributions from outside donors.
Friday’s filing with the State Board of Elections was the last one that campaigns were required to make until after the July 19 primary, meaning that the overall amounts and details of spending for the remaining two-plus weeks of the primary season won’t be known until several weeks after Primary Day.

In his latest filing, Blair reported $1.33 million in spending on media advertising over the previous month. Combined with previous spending in this category, it brings total media ad expenditures by his campaign to more than $2.3 million so far.
Two-thirds of this total – $1.55 million, with $1 million of the latter amount coming in June – has been spent as Blair has gone on the attack – saturating the airwaves with ads that highlight his recent endorsement in a Washington Post editorial that also sharply criticizes Elrich’s first term as executive.

Prior to June, Elrich had reported little – less than $6,500 – spent on media advertising. But his latest report lists nearly $350,000 spent in this category, with at least $315,000 devoted to TV ads.

Riemer’s latest report shows nearly $375,000 spent on paid media. Most of the latest round of spending – about $347,000 – has gone for TV ads in which Riemer goes after aspects of Elrich’s tenure while also jabbing at his other opponent as “rich guy Blair, trying to buy it.”

In addition to spending for TV and online media, the Blair campaign has spent more than $550,000 to date – $292,000 coming in June – on direct mail, which has filled Democratic voters’ mailboxes with large, glossy brochures. The Blair campaign received some blowback on social media for one recent mail piece labeled “2022 Montgomery County Democratic Primary Voter Guide” – whose flip side turns out to be an awarding of positive marks to Blair and negatives to Elrich on several issues, while again promoting the Post endorsement of Blair.

Neither Elrich nor Riemer is spending significant funds on direct mail efforts, according to their filings – although the Elrich campaign reported nearly $50,000 in postage costs in June in conjunction with the mailing of campaign material.
For the third time since announcing his candidacy in late March, the other candidate in the Democratic race for executive, technology entrepreneur Peter James, filed an affidavit with the State Board of Elections saying he planned to raise and spend no more than $1,000.

One of two candidates for the Republican nomination, Friendship Heights attorney Shelly Skolnick, also filed such an affidavit. The other contender, Montgomery County Republican Committee Chair Reardon Sullivan, raised about $5,300 in June on top of nearly $23,000 raised previously since he announced in April, with his largest single expenditure – about $10,500 – going to online advertising.
The winner of the Republican primary will face a steep uphill challenge in November in a county that is about 4-1 Democratic.

Louis Peck, a contributing editor for Bethesda Magazine, can be reached at: lou.peck@bethesdamagazine.com.