Wine retailer David Trone, the newest Democratic candidate in the primary for Maryland’s 8th Congressional District seat, has contributed more than $150,000 to Republicans in states across the country since 2000, according to a nonpartisan site that tracks money in politics.
Most of Trone’s contributions went to candidates and officeholders in states where he sought legislation or regulatory changes favorable to his company, Total Wine & More. The firm, the nation’s largest privately held retailer of wine, beer and spirits, operates more than 100 stores in 18 states, including Maryland and Virginia. Among the Republicans who received funds were Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick of Texas and North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory.
Trone has also donated to Democratic state officials during the same period, although not nearly as much, according to FollowThe Money.org, a database operated by the nonpartisan National Institute on Money in State Politics. Data shows more than $90,000 in contributions. Trone also has raised millions for Democratic candidates and donated tens of thousands of dollars, under his own name and through family members and companies, to Democratic candidates for national office.
Trone, who this week became the eighth entrant into the Democratic field in the 8th Congressional District, said the contributions represented the cost of doing business, especially in states with Republican-controlled state houses and governor’s mansions.
“I sign my checks to buy access,” he said in an interview Thursday. Trone said that he did not believe the contributions undercut his legitimacy as a Democratic candidate. Of the Republicans he has financed, he said, “We disagree categorically with their political positions on everything social and economic.”
Trone has promised to largely self-fund his campaign, limiting individual contributions to $10 and refusing donations from PACs or lobbyists.
Although he may be comfortable with the idea that he keeps his business and partisan identities separate, that may take some explaining to 8th District Democrats.
Another Democratic primary candidate, former news anchor and Marriott executive Kathleen Matthews, took heat last year for a $2,600 contribution to Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who supported legislation favorable to the hotel industry. Matthews, who said it was the only donation she had ever made to a Republican, said she was “making that contribution on behalf of my company saluting what I think is somebody who is willing to work across the aisle to create jobs.”
Trone, whose donations make Matthews’s contribution to Blunt look like pocket change, made much the same argument in interviews Wednesday and Thursday. He said one of the reasons Congress is held in such low esteem is the refusal of Democrats and Republicans to work together.
“We need to work as Americans, not as Democrats and Republicans,” Trone said.
Much of his money went toward initiatives to gain broader markets for beer and wine consumption. In North Carolina, for example, he supported a successful push a decade ago to raise the limit on the alcohol content of beer, opening the way for sales of craft beers. In 2012, McCrory, who has received $8,000 from Trone, signed into law legislation allowing retailers to sell “growlers,” or 64-ounce jugs for beer. Trone has also spent heavily to gain advantage in the lucrative Texas market, donating $8,941 to Abbott, $15,000 to Patrick, and $11,000 to Attorney General Kenneth Paxton (R).
“I’ve passed more laws than most politicians,” he said in an interview Wednesday, later correcting himself to say that he had lobbied to pass numerous laws.
Clarification: Earlier versions of this story should have specified that David Trone contributed about $90,000 to Democratic state officials between 2000 and 2015, rather than just Democrats. The story also should have said that Trone has raised millions for Democratic candidates and donated tens of thousands of dollars, under his own name and through family members and companies, to Democratic candidates for national office. That information has been added.