Trone Ad Sparks War Of Words

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David Trone put out a new TV ad yesterday, and boy howdy, did it get a response today.

First, the ad.

It’s clear that Trone is responding to all of the criticisms of his big spending. He is particularly incensed that the two people criticizing him the most have made blanket statements about money in politics that he doesn’t think they’ve lived up to.

Let’s hear what the Raskin campaign has to say. Press release:

Leaders in Maryland Join Senator Raskin In Decrying Negative And Misleading Campaign Ads

“Jamie is incorruptible and this ad is contemptible,” says the Sierra Club’s Betsy Johnson.

Today Senator Raskin was joined by Democratic Leaders from Maryland’s 8th District in decrying the negative and misleading attacks by his opponents in the Democratic primary for Congress in the final days of the election.

“David Trone’s 11th hour desperation attack ad says that Jamie Raskin took thousands of dollars from people who lobbied him,” said Marshall Cohen, Raskin’s campaign manager. “The ad then scrolls rapidly through a long list of donations from groups like Democracy for America, the Electrical Workers Union, the Nurses, and the Machinists Union which are not lobbyists at all. Only five names on the list come from people who arguably could have lobbied Senator Raskin in Annapolis — people like Dorothy Lennig of the House of Ruth, a domestic violence group, who generously reached into her pocket and gave Jamie $200 —and all five gave a grand total of $1,300, much less than one-tenth of one percent of the $1.9 million our grassroots campaign has raised in this election. The irony is that this frivolous but expensive attack ad comes from someone who has spent more than $1.4 million on lobbyists to ‘buy access’ for his liquor corporation and has become a symbol of plutocratic ambition run wild by already spending more personal money in a U.S. House race than any other person in American history.”

Senator Raskin denounced the negative turn in the race. “I announced for Congress one year and two days ago, and we’ve run an exuberantly positive campaign based on my public record of proven legislative success in moving a progressive agenda forward and our old-fashioned grassroots organizing strategies. I’m disappointed about this 11th-hour desperation attack TV ad but am confident that the people of our district will reject it decisively.”

Senator Raskin continued: “In a vibrant democracy, big money cannot substitute for legislative experience or a record of serious political engagement. Espionage and infiltration by paid staffers against other people’s campaigns cannot substitute for door-knocking. Masses of illegally placed signs on the public right-of-way cannot compete with thousands of hard-won and lawfully placed signs in people’s front yards. A wall of propagandistic TV ads cannot substitute for grassroots organizing. And frivolous and dishonorable attack ads cannot cover up for the absence of a serious political and intellectual agenda. In a democracy, public office cannot be bought and it should not be tainted with dirty tricks. It must be earned through a record of public service and commitment to the public good.”

Democratic leaders across Maryland are decrying the negative and misleading attacks from Senator Raskin’s opponents.

“As a Democratic activist in the Eighth Congressional District, I am very disappointed that other candidates in this race have chosen to attack Senator Raskin, who has run a completely positive, issue-oriented campaign,” said Beth Tomasello, former President of the Woman’s Democratic Club of Montgomery County. “Of course, it’s not surprising that candidates who have vowed to spend whatever it takes to win this election will also distort and malign the outstanding record of one of Maryland’s most progressive, effective, and dedicated public servants. These are obviously last-minute desperation tactics and they will not work with the voters of the Eighth Congressional District, who are exceptionally engaged and well informed.”

“We’ve seen enough negativity and outlandish lies in the GOP Presidential Primary to last a lifetime,” said Democratic activist Nik Sushka, former President of Montgomery County Young Democrats. “We don’t need this kind of negativity in the Democratic Party. More voters will now rush to Jamie, a proven campaign finance reformer and Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics, to get away from David Trone’s mud-slinging.”

“One of the things I love about Jamie Raskin is that he doesn’t demonize people. And I think that’s why he’s been so successful at moving legislation in Annapolis, where 95% of the 118 bills he introduced were passed with bipartisan support,” said Betsy Johnson, Political Chair of the Sierra Club’s Maryland Chapter. “Jamie Raskin is one of the most likable and warm people in the General Assembly. Negativity doesn’t enter into his politics. He always stands up for the public interest against narrow interests. He is incorruptible and this ad is contemptible.”

“I’m proud to support Jamie Raskin because he is running a positive grassroots race and practicing a real campaign of substance,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. “Jamie obviously doesn’t need to resort to negative and misleading attacks to earn the support of 8th District voters because he is a respected leader with a proven record and very simply the best candidate to replace Congressman Van Hollen.”

“As a lifelong Democrat with 35 years of local community activism, I’m disappointed in the negative attacks coming out in the 8th Congressional District race, especially against Senator Jamie Raskin, who has earned a reputation for integrity, intelligence, and progressive passion in his decade of public service,” said Susan Turnbull, former chair of the Maryland Democratic Party, “Instead of acting like Republicans and resorting to last-minute misleading attacks, Democratic candidates in this race should stick to the real issues that effect our district and present to voters their own records of legislative accomplishment and community service, whatever those records might be.” 

“I have served with Jamie in Annapolis for a decade and I know him to be decent and incorruptible and 100 percent devoted to the public good,” said District 16 Senator Susan Lee. “I believe that voters will reward Jamie’s excellent positive campaign and reject these pathetic tactics that boomerang back on the candidate who approved them.”

“When Jamie was our floor leader on marriage equality, I saw his true character: civilized, committed to equal rights for all, ethically engaged, and willing to overcome his own medical condition (he had cancer at the time and was undergoing chemo) with unswerving moral toughness,” said District 18 Senator Rich Madaleno. “Meantime, with yesterday’s absurd attacks on Jamie’s character by a transparent political pretender, we have all gotten a glimpse of the character of his opponent, someone with no public service record who will pay and say anything to buy a public office. But, like Jamie says, public office is something you earn, not something you buy. And you can’t buy this! The voters know better.”

Wow. That was, um, something? Seriously, Betsy Johnson, he’s “incorruptible”? Have you been down to the crossroads with him? That’s just a little overheated and quite frankly insane. Raskin’s not being accused of breaking the law, just of not living up to his own standard in words that came out of his own mouth. Methinks somebody here doth protest way way too much. Either that or someone needs to switch to decaf, stat.

Look, I hadn’t even seen the ad when I got this press release. I didn’t plan to write about it. But then I had no choice after reading the vehemence with which a 12 paragraph cannonade defending Raskin and attacking Trone was delivered. This was a garden variety contrast ad by Trone: “you said one thing but you did another.” Why such an overheated response? 

And note the highlighting, please. This was ONE ad by ONE candidate – let’s assume for a minute that it’s false and negative. That doesn’t make it appropriate to insinuate that the attacks are coming from any other candidate. Raskin’s  repeated use of the plural “opponents” and “other candidates” and “attacks” is disingenuous.

And just tonight I’m learning that the Raskin campaign is handing out the press release (two single spaced pages!) at early voting in Silver Spring. 


Little pro tip there, guys: no authority line. Just sayin’. And no union bug, although you could say “printed in-house with donated labor” to get around that, but it doesn’t say that anywhere.

An overwrought, defensive, and excessive reaction to a “ho hum” TV ad. And one that smears another candidate that had nothing to do with the Trone ad. Not well played at all.

Matthews responded in a much more succinct and level tone.

“David Trone’s the last person on earth who should attack Kathleen or anyone else on ethics.  He built his fortune by spending millions on lobbyists and buying political access. Now he’s spending millions trying to buy a Congressional seat like it’s a fine bottle of wine. It won’t fly in this district.

We are proud of the more than 10,000 contributions we have received – 80% of which are less than $100 and the majority are from women.  Kathleen has built a diverse coalition of supporters who are determined to elect more progressive pro-choice women to Congress.”

Bottom line: “We will not be preached to by the likes of you, sir. Good DAY.” Two paragraphs beat 12 most every time.

Trone spokeswoman Mary Werden issued a statement today in response to the Raskin and Matthews statements:

“The facts presented in the ad are indisputable, and no one is arguing them. Senator Raskin claims he doesn’t take money from LLCs or people who lobby him. But he has. Ms. Matthews decries the corrupting power of big money in politics, but has taken it by the truck load. It’s another example of the bold claims that Sen. Raskin and Ms. Matthews have made throughout this campaign, but the fact is that their rhetoric doesn’t match the reality that they haven’t practiced what they’ve been preaching. The over-the-top response and repeated negative campaigning towards David can’t change the facts, however inconvenient they may be. The voters are entitled to the truth before they vote, and despite the distractions, the facts speak for themselves.

The corrupting influence of lobbyists, PACs and big money donors has been a central theme of David’s campaign since he announced. It’s a clear and defining difference in this race — that David is the only candidate not taking money from special interests, so his only interest in Congress will be the voters. The new FEC report shows just how corrupting the influence of special interest money is in our politics today and that candidates are willing to violate their own standards just to get it.”

She also attached two spreadsheets, one with a list of Raskin lobbyist and PAC donations, and one for Matthews. While I haven’t fact-checked all of them, there’s enough references to PACs and lobbyists to recognize a certain rough truth to what Trone is saying.

The Trone hit on Matthews is a little bit more nebulous. “$300,000 in big money” is kind of nebulous on the best of days. Perhaps sensing this, Trone’s spreadsheets apply the Raskin “PACs and lobbyists” standard to Matthews as well. But she never made any extravagant promises about who she would or wouldn’t take donations from. So it’s a little more vague. And she also gave a response which pretty much left no room for the kind of criticism that Raskin opened himself up to.

On that score, my sense is this: Raskin has taken donations from lobbyists. Not a whole heck of a lot of them, but some. Gerry Evans, Gil Genn, Michael Rozner and others are clearly lobbyists. They list it as their occupation in his FEC reports, fer gosh sakes. Raskin’s also taken PAC money. They may be good PACs, but they’re still PACs.

Does any of that make Raskin dirty? No. Does it make the money illegal? No. Does it make him corrupt? No.

So why not just acknowledge that he maybe didn’t adhere to his own rules? Walk it back, confess to not enforcing it ruthlessly enough, story over. The story would be over. Gone, finished, goodbye.

Why not? Because he can’t. Because Raskin has set a higher bar for himself. Nobody made him do that. He chose to, and he wears that “I’m different” idea like a badge, and he uses it to claim superiority. Most importantly, HE believes it. It’s his brand – he’s not just a good candidate, he’s the best. Better than anyone in America, in fact. But self-imposed high standards can be a burden as well as a benefit, and he should have expected attacks like this one and been prepared to deal with them. He wasn’t.

So what Raskin’s done for the second time this week is to take a little story and instead of keeping it that way, he’s made it a big story. He can’t just admit that he didn’t quite live up to his self-created standards, and so he digs in his heels and makes it worse. Raskin’s reaction today, as it was on Sunday, was rushed, defensive and not remotely well thought out. So now he’s amplifying David Trone’s allegations and he’s smearing Kathleen Matthews and he’s denying basic facts that wouldn’t have any meaning at all except that he’s given them meaning. And that meaning doesn’t reflect well on the candidate at all.

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