Potomac businessman David Blair is channeling serious money into his bid for Montgomery County executive, loaning close to $2 million to his campaign so far and drawing criticism from several of his Democratic primary rivals.
State campaign finance records show Blair loaned his campaign $1.6 million between Jan. 11 and May 15 — adding to $300,000 he earlier loaned the campaign.
Blair, who founded and later sold a successful prescription- drug-benefits company, raised just $49,009 from 167 donors during that reporting period. A political newcomer, he said he has had to use his own money to get his name and his message out to voters, and up to now has focused on voter outreach, not fundraising. He’s spent nearly $700,000 on his media campaign this year, records show.
“It’s much more important for me to meet with people than to get their money, their contributions,” he said.
Blair said that he will probably loan his campaign additional money in the weeks remaining before the June 26 primary but that he also would begin turning to donors.
“Now that our message is out there and it’s resonating, we’ll be doing much more fundraising between now and the end of the election,” Blair said.
It isn’t the first time that voters in Montgomery County — the state’s most populous jurisdiction — will consider a largely self-funded candidate. David Trone, co-owner of Total Wine & More, spent more than $12 million on his unsuccessful congressional bid in 2016, and is spending millions this year running in a neighboring district.
Still, several of the five Democrats also running for Montgomery County executive blasted Blair’s spending, noting that he has never held elected office and did not become a registered Democrat until 2003.
“I find it offensive to be running against a self-funded millionaire with zero experience in government who used to be a Republican,” said council member Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda), who raised just under $250,000 from 405 donors from Jan. 11 to mid-May.
State Del. C. William Frick (D-Montgomery), who also is running for county executive, said: “I just think it’s interesting that it’s already been nearly $2 million and there’s not a Democratic household that I know of with a David Blair sign in its yard.”
Frick, who like Blair and Berliner opted for traditional fundraising instead the county’s new public finance system, raised just $68,796 from 184 donors between Jan. 11 and May 15.
Frick, who serves as House majority leader, said he made only modest fundraising efforts during the legislative session, which ran from Jan. 10 to April 9. While General Assembly members are prohibited by law from fundraising during the session, there is no such prohibition if they are running for local or federal office, according to a guidance document from the state board of elections.
He said he was further hampered after a large tree fell on his Bethesda home during an early March windstorm, destroying much of it and forcing his family to move into a temporary rental home.
“I was basically out of commission for most of this reporting period,” Frick said.
At-large council member George L. Leventhal — one of three Democrats running for county executive using the public finance system — reported receiving $446,710 in public matching funds through May 15. The system caps individual donations at $150, leverages each donated dollar with matching public funds of between $2 and $6, and prohibits contributions from corporations and other groups.
Leventhal touted himself as offering “progress and experience money can’t buy” and said Blair “has to spend a whole lot more to overcome the fact that nobody has ever heard of him until very recently.”
Former Rockville mayor and county deputy planning director Rose Krasnow reported receiving $358,055 in matching funds in a report through May 15. She requested an additional $1,100 since her last request on May 15.
She said Montgomery County voters are turned off by candidates who appear to try to buy their way into victory.
“If he wasn’t spending his own money, I don’t think his campaign would be seen as viable,” she said of Blair. “But because he has so much, clearly that puts him far above the rest of us.”
At-large council member Marc Elrich reported receiving $503,866.72 in matching funds through May 15, with a request for an additional $100,402 since his last request for matching funds on April 17. He predicted that voters won’t be swayed by big spending in the election.
“David Blair can use money to commission polls and then create an image of himself based on poll results,” he said. “We’ve had enough of buying images and elections.”
But Blair said he was not buying anything. “I think it’s an insult to Montgomery County residents [to say] that their vote could be bought,” he said.