Political action committees are filing their quarterly reports with the Federal Elections Commission, and an early glance at the first batch of statements reveals that many of Washington's right-leaning, bold-faced names have made their presidential preferences, and perhaps none bigger than the owner of the local NFL franchise.
Dan Snyder donated $100,000 to Right to Rise PAC, which is aligned with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, according to FEC reports filed Friday. The donation not surprising considering Snyder's past political giving, which has tended to favor Republicans. In 2012, he gave $5,000 to Republican nominee Mitt Romney, $10,000 to the Virginia GOP, and $5,000 to former Senator (and friend-of-the-team) George Allen, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He also gave $5,200 to Democratic Senator Mark Warner's 2014 re-election campaign.
Snyder is the only local sports baron who's contributed to any of the PACs that have filed so far, but he joins many local cash cows in contributing to Right to Rise, which reports raising $103 million in the first half of 2015. Real-estate developer Joseph B. Gildenhorn (you may be able to figure out which firm) put in $25,000, former Solicitor General Ted Olson gave $25,000, car-dealership magnate Robert Ourisman contributed $15,000, and defense attorney Brendan V. Sullivan, Jr. gave $2,500.
While Right to Rise's total haul dwarfs those of PACs supporting other Republican candidates, its receipts also show that, at least within the Washington area, Bush is far ahead of any of his rivals. Organizations backing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie each had a few DC-area contributions, but none with the kind of wattage as many of Bush's backers.
Washington tends to volley between golf and tennis as its pastime, led by the Oval Office occupant. After eight years with Obama as First Duffer, does the trend now favor a Bush? Here’s a short history of White House tennis since Theodore Roosevelt had a court built for $2,000 in 1903.
This article appears in our August 2015 issue of Washingtonian.
By inviting only the ten top-polling candidates in the crowded GOP field to participate in the first Republican primary debate, Fox News has made the August 6 event, cohosted with Facebook, controversial before it starts (ten is the most candidates ever onstage, but the Republican field now numbers 16). We asked Fox anchor Bret Baier, who is moderating along with Chris Wallace and Megyn Kelly, about his debate prep.
Can a gay Republican with a jawbreaking name win the US Senate seat being vacated by Maryland’s liberal stalwart Barbara Mikulski? What were the odds, answers Chrysovalantis Kefalas, the polysyllabic candidate in question, that a doughy conservative businessman could become governor of the nation’s bluest state?
“Larry Hogan showed us the path forward,” Kefalas—who goes by Chrys—tells Washingtonian. “You need a different type of Republican to win in a blue state like Maryland.”
MuckRock, an online repository of Freedom of Information Act documents, recently turned up a list of “.gov” websites abandoned in the past decade. We tracked down the intended uses for some of the more curious decommissioned sites.
The former website of the “official old-time string band of the US Forest Service.” President Obama called it a waste of tax dollars and shut it down in 2011.
President George W. Bush’s Scottish terrier Barney was an early web pioneer thanks to this site’s videos shot as the dog roamed the White House with a camera crew in tow.
The hub of a campaign to get kids outside and active featured a very awkward picture of the Jonas Brothers posing with former Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne.
This site promoting the $1 coin estimated that the currency would save the country “billions”—but not enough, apparently, to justify this site.
Possibly a hedge against misspellings of “AmeriCorps,” it also conveniently walled off an alternative name that could be used as a term of derision by the program’s detractors.
This article appears in our June 2015 issue of Washingtonian.
Mo Elleithee, the Democratic National Committee's communications director, picked up a bunch of headlines earlier this week when he announced he will be leaving the party leadership to run Georgetown University's new Institute of Politics and Public Service. Elleithee, active in Democratic Party politics for more than two decades, worked on numerous Senate, gubernatorial, and presidential campaigns over the years. To locals, though, he might be best-known for his role as an adviser to former DC Mayor Vince Gray's 2010 campaign, which unraveled over the next four years amid revelations that it was aided by an illegally funded shadow operation overseen by now-disgraced businessman Jeffrey "Uncle Earl" Thompson.
Elleithee, who only played a role in Gray's above-board campaign, publicly aired his disgust in a 2011 Washington Post op-ed, calling the shadow effort "stupid politics" and a "betrayal of the voters." But in a Medium post announcing his new gig, Elleithee wrote that while he's getting out of the party apparatus, he's not giving up on his life's pursuit, writing, "I love politics." In an interview with Washingtonian, Elleithee expounds on that statement, and explains how he plans to connect with today's political neophytes. He also says that even after the Gray campaign, he hasn't given up on the District's local politics.
Your Medium post and the announcement of your job move seemed to be interpreted to say that as after years as a political consultant and spokesman you’re sick of politics. Is that right?
No. I start by saying I love politics. I think politics is a noble calling. I think public service is a noble calling. Politics is how democracies settle their differences, but I think we too often lose sight of that. While I think there is a lot of amazing things that can happen when the system works, it doesn’t always work. I’m excited to engage with young people because I actually think as long as young people feel disengaged and disenfranchised, the process will never get better. I want to learn from them what will get them re-engaged. I want to learn from their ideas on how to make things better.
Why are young people disengaged? Is there a generic disinterest in dualistic partisanship or because young people are not actively courted?
I’m not going to pretend to know the answer to that. I want them to tell me why. I want them to tell us what we’re doing wrong, why they don’t feel connected to the way politics is done. We know they feel just as disenchanted as other people do with the process. But what I’m hoping at the end of the day comes out of this is that young people and students who participate in the program see the value in politics and public service and get excited about participating in the process, and that the political professionals that come through learn how they might be able to do it better.
What are the practices or tools you’ll use to do that?
Our flagship program is going to be a fellows program where we partner students with a number of political professionals, have them spend a semester together exploring ideas. We’re obviously going to have a robust speaking program that’s going to be a much-more interactive environment. How politics is communicated is going to be an important thing to look at.
That’s been your speciality for most of your career.
It has been, but communications is changing. I’m hoping that we can partner with some really interesting digital media platforms where young people are absolutely getting their information now.
What are those, besides the obvious like Twitter and Facebook?
Snapchat just hired a director of news, which is really interesting to me. Fusion is doing interesting things. Medium, where I posted my essay. Those are just a couple. There are so many different ones. Vox, [Independent Journal Review], BuzzFeed is becoming a powerhouse. There are so many of these that are doing new and creative things. There are so many different venues where young people are getting their information. How do we engage people where they are getting their information without cheapening the debate?
Do you ever find it difficult to keep up with the platforms that are more socially directed?
Absolutely. That’s why I’m really excited to hear from students where they are getting their information and helping figure out how we can apply a political dialogue to that venue.
No hesitation about sitting out in 2016?
I don’t see myself as sitting it out. I just see myself doing it in a different way. Doing this against the backdrop of a presidential campaign, which will be a real-life laboratory for a lot of the discussions we’ll be having, is fascinating to me. If we can get young people engaged in this election and begin to crack the code about how to get them excited, then I can’t think of anything that’ll fulfill me more. If I can get home to see my kids before bedtime, that’s an added plus.
Is it going to be an challenge to get young people engaged when it's possible the two major-party candidates are going to have last names that your students’ parents came of age with?
Let me put it this way: I think young people are going to be much more interested in what the candidates have to say and whether the candidates understand that. That’s going to matter much more than what anybody’s name is. But I’m excited to find that out.
Followers of local politics probably know you best for your involvement in Vince Gray’s 2010 campaign. You and Steve McMahon wrote that Post op-ed around the time all of the shadow campaign stuff started coming out. Did that have any lasting impact on getting out of campaigns?
As disheartening as that race turned out to be, it doesn’t change my passion. In a lot of ways I’m even more focused and engaged on my local government now, having been through that—watching what the current mayor and council are doing, and they’re doing some great things. One of the things that’s interesting to me is that in a town like this where so many smart political people live, that so few people actually engage in local politics. And that bothers me. I moved to DC 25 years ago to go to school and I’ve lived in the region for most of that time. I’d never been engaged in DC politics before. My point is whether we’re talking about the presidential election or a local council race, it still matters to people and we can’t allow ourselves to feel disenchanted or disenfranchised.
Maryland senior senator Barbara Mikulski’s announcement that she won’t run for a sixth term next year was “a bench-clearing moment,” says Len Lazarick, editor of MarylandReporter.com, putting in play not just Mikulski’s seat but a slew of others—most, though not all, Democratic. The inter-squad brawl may stoke regional rivalries, setting Montgomery County against Prince George’s and Chevy Chase against Takoma Park. Here, our preseason picks.
Contenders for Mikulski’s seat
Chris Van Hollen
The Montgomery County Democrat and chair of his party’s Congressional Campaign Committee has raised upward of $1 million since Mikulski’s announcement.
Contenders for Van Hollen’s seat
The Montgomery County state senator—and son of Marcus Raskin,of DC’s Institute for Policy Studies—plays well in liberal Takoma Park but also can raise the cash to fight off Matthews if she runs.
The state delegate’s district around Rockville continues to fill up with suburbanites, but it still isn’t a strong enough foundation to launch him into Congress.
After quitting her Montgomery County Council seat last year, she’s back for a shot at the House. But the better-funded, equally progressive Raskin leaves her little way forward.
Her former gig as a Channel 7 reporter—along with her Hardball husband, Chris Matthews—gives her name recognition. But will she keep her fire when media pals start breaking her down?
The 19-year US House veteran, whose internal polling, he says, has him leading the race, may be Baltimore’s man—if he’ll trade his ranking seat on the oversight committee.
The congressman has proved he can win in a district that runs from DC’s northern suburbs to the Pennsylvania border, using his self-made wealth and his cred as a job creator.
When Sarbanes’s father, Paul, retired from the Senate, Van Hollen stepped aside to let Ben Cardin run for the seat (and win). Sarbanes will likely defer now to Van Hollen.
The Eastern Shore Republican is encouraged by Governor Larry Hogan’s win, but voters know him mostly for threatening to kill DC’s marijuana legalization laws.
A former GOP national chair, he might find the cash, but as a former lieutenant governor who lost the ’06 Senate race to Cardin, he’s unlikely to shake his rap as the eternal bridesmaid.
This African-American single mom, endorsed by the women’s political group Emily’s List, may take every vote to the left of Van Hollen, but that’s likely not enough to beat him.
Contenders for Edwards’s seat
The former Prince George’s County prosecutor is one of several county officials to declare, but he alone has the line to corporate cash, through his boutique law firm, Leftwich & Ludaway, to make a run.
The onetime lieutenant governor’s failed bid to succeed Martin O’Malley still stings Dems, who blame his lackluster style. Still, don’t count out the Harvard graduate and Iraq War vet.
This article appears in our May 2015 of Washingtonian.
Between taking selfies with John McCain and laughing along nervously with the President, attendees at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner- this year on April 25- settle into polite silence each year for the awarding of scholarships to young journalists. This feel-good segment is one of the ways the WHCA gets to call itself a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, as it was officially designated in 2004- that's after Ozzy Osbourne first showed at the Washington Hilton but before Stephen Colbert's roast of George W. Bush made the dinner a traffic-paralyzing national spectacle.
Pardon us for a moment, however, while we make like journalists and follow the money. As the event's profile has risen, contributions to the association have jumped- from 2009 to 2013, the take increased by 162 percent, to $532,555- but scholarship payouts have inched only 10 percent higher, according to the WHCA's tax filings. Put another way, the association spent almost 60 percent of its revenue on scholarships in 2009, but just 26 percent in 2013.
Some of the excess cash has gone to boost compensation of the group's longtime executive director, Julia Whiston- from $40,000 a year in 2004 to a still-modest $142,000- and to build up cash reserves. The association also says it has put $100,000 into an endowment for future scholarships since its last filing. The WHCA isn't in danger of violating the law- the rules governing 501(c)(3)s are so broad that a band of ghost hunters in Memphis qualifies. Nobody is accusing anyone of tapping corporate slush funds: The organization's major donors are media homers like Fox's Bill O'Reilly and Politico.
But its donations-to-payouts ration causes Ken Berger, until recently CEO of the watchdog group Charity Navigator, to frown. "It appears," he says, "as if the organization is more concerned with its own self-perpetuation than a selfless assisting of others in need."
Christi Parsons, a Tribune Publishing correspondent and outgoing WHCA president, submitted responses to written questions, saying the group aims "to support and advance the public's interest in the First Amendment, particularly the freedom of the press to report vigorously on the activities of the office of the President."
But even wrapped in First Amendment ideals, the WHCA is more akin to the American Bar Association than to the Sisters of Mercy. "It strikes me that the primary purpose is to promote opportunities for journalists," says attorney Bruce Hopkins, author of The Law of Tax-Exempt Organizations. "The charitable, educational part is more secondary than primary."
When such things are said about other charities, they risk alienating donors. That won't likely happen to the WHCA, whose fun dinner raises the bulk of its money. But as the event continues to attract more attention, and more cash, it may be time for the organization to act less like media clubhouse and more like the charity it purports to be.
After taking office in December 2010, Prince George’s County executive Rushern Baker III could barely sleep. He had run three times for the job and had plans to make big changes in his first 30 days. Instead, Baker found himself up late, pondering a recent rash of homicides, trouble in the public schools, and a $77-million budget gap. Business leaders, whom Baker had counted on to revive the county’s flagging fortunes, instead greeted him with stories of shakedowns by his predecessor, Jack B. Johnson, who would soon go to prison for bribery and corruption.
One election cycle later, Baker no longer leads with the county’s troubles. “For the first time, people who would not have thought about Prince George’s at least pause. Then we can make our case,” he says. The turnabout has some in Maryland mentioning the term-limited Baker as the next Democratic candidate for governor.
First he has to survive the current administration in Annapolis. Baker’s most pressing projects depend on convincing new Republican governor Larry Hogan—who ran on an agenda of lower taxes and shrunken spending—to come up with funding promised by Hogan’s predecessor, Martin O’Malley.
As Baker’s second term got under way, the county executive talked about Prince George’s future—and his own.
The news coming from the governor’s office is all about budget cuts—those Martin O’Malley made before he left and now those likely to come from the new governor. How do you handle that?
The tools are very limited at the local level. The tax burden in Prince George’s is so high right now, we’re not looking to raise taxes. If the state cuts filter down to me, I don’t have tools to raise revenues. That forces us to prioritize. We have to start investing in the future. We’ve set up the Economic Development Investment Fund to attract businesses and get a larger commercial tax base here.
The new governor has raised doubts about the Purple Line, which promised to bring people and money to the county. What do you expect will happen?
Maryland has always been divided. In Prince George’s, Montgomery, and Howard counties, the rail system is the lifeblood of economic development. The same with Baltimore. If you’re in a rural area, you want more roads. But there’s a really credible argument if you are a businessperson.
What’s that argument?
If the idea is to grow Maryland’s economy and provide jobs, you want the Purple Line. Just building it is going to create jobs, then the stops become the hubs we want to attract business. If we want cybersecurity businesses to grow up around Fort Meade, the workers have to be able to get to the airport, or downtown, or to the Pentagon. What makes our proposal to relocate the FBI building to Prince George’s stand out is that we already have transit there.
Before November’s election, Maryland promised to pay nearly a third of the cost of a new regional hospital in Largo. So far, Governor Hogan hasn’t signaled whether he intends to go forward with the state’s full $200-million share of the project. What’s the fate of the hospital?
I think the hospital is safe. It’s important for the hospital to go forward, for health reasons, and to jump-start downtown Largo. And the deal we put on the table is pretty much the same deal the last Republican governor offered the county.
This is where having a governor who grew up in Prince George’s will matter. His father had to deal with the hospital situation when he was county executive.
One of your mentors, former county executive Wayne Curry, made building the middle class a priority. One key to that is the public schools. How is your campaign to attract middle-class students going?
Look at the number of first-generation Americans who are doing well in our school system. Some of our brightest students’ parents are originally from Africa, South America, India. The diversity shows there are great opportunities. And there are real opportunities for the county to connect in emerging economies like India and China.
We also have one of the fastest-growing Hispanic populations—I’m very pleased that for the first time we have two Latinas on our school board. We know we have a majority of the Nigerians in the Washington area. We’re looking at things, like housing availability, that we have to have in order to keep a robust middle class, and those who are moving into the middle class. It has been a hallmark of Prince George’s that we are not too high and we are not too low. We have balance in terms of economics and demographics.
Speaking of housing expenses, Anacostia—one of the areas of the District closest to Prince George’s—is gentrifying quickly. How are you handling those who are being pushed out?
We’re looking at what the District is doing to revitalize, and we’re making sure we match them from College Park all the way down to the Red Line and the new development around Catholic University. What you’re seeing in the District is an opportunity for us to reenergize our nodes in Prince George’s. We’re putting a lot of energy into spurring development into New Carrollton, Mount Rainier, and Suitland. I think that is going to be a hot area. And we’re spending money and resources to turn around areas such as Glassmanor, Oxon Hill.
It will be interesting to see how regional cooperation will work. All of us have to understand we are in this together. If people are priced out of the city, the same thing could happen in Montgomery and Prince George’s. People easily could be priced out of Mount Rainier in the next few years.
So you have a lot of big questions to settle in the next four years. What was the biggest accomplishment of your first term?
The biggest thing we did was ethics reform. Had we not put the bill in, the legislature would have put something in and we’d have a fight over what reform looks like. You don’t want someone else doing it for you. You want to admit to the world, “We know we have issues.”
A lot of people would say your biggest accomplishment was the drop in crime. How did that happen?
We sat down once a week for six months with Sheriff Melvin High and State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks, the police—all these folks. Police chief Mark Magaw had the summer crime initiative. It was a long-term strategy, and it was persistent. The police are going beyond policing, working with social services and the health department.
Is there anything new about the way you’re going to go about the next four years?
We asked all our directors and deputy directors to start thinking about programs that are sustainable so the next administration doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. Stuff around health, connecting social services and family services, doing innovative things about aging in place. I asked everyone to work from 2020 backward, so that once we walk out the door in 2018, there’s demonstrative evidence of what we were thinking.
What does your political future hold, seeing as you’re term-limited?
This will surprise you—I’m focused on making Prince George’s the best it can be. I think the county is the economic engine in the Washington region. I am so blessed to have a job I wanted really bad.
If opportunities open up, they open up. If I can help contribute to making the state better, then I will probably run for something else. If there is someone more talented, I will do as I did in the last campaign and support those I believe in.
Most of the new candidates you supported in the most recent county election lost their races, including your son. What does that say about your remaining political clout?
I made a commitment to support candidates I thought would make a difference—regardless of whether they could win or not. The majority of them will be in public policy in the future. I wanted to help them meet the public. That’s what happened to me. It gave me a chance to get out there and make my mark.
What have you learned in your first four years in office?
Change is hard. In the words of JFK, it’s a lot different making campaign speeches than making policies. You’re so eager, so sure you have answers and that people will accept what you say as gospel. When they don’t, you’re shocked. And you find out that some ideas you had weren’t the best way to govern.
For me personally, the biggest thing was the amount of stress. I gained a tremendous amount of weight.
Thirty pounds. My doctor was concerned, my blood pressure was up, I couldn’t sleep. It was [former Prince George’s county executives] Wayne Curry and Parris Glendening who said, ‘Take a day, and don’t let them take that from you.” I started running with the police cadets. It took me six months to get down to a healthy size.
Now you’re training for the Boston Marathon.
I wanted to run the Army Ten-Miler before I was 55. I had promised my dad I would. When I couldn’t get in, a police officer gave up her spot. Then a guy I know said, “How would you like to run Boston?” For my 56th birthday, I received an invitation. I thought it was a joke, quite frankly. But I am doing it.
This article appears in our April 2015 issue of Washingtonian.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel faces an unexpected runoff vote in his bid for a second term, and in his first big move ahead of the April 7 finale, the former White House chief of staff is offering a message that might sound familiar to District residents.
"I can rub people the wrong way, or talk when I should listen," Emanuel says in a 30-second ad that started playing in the Windy City this week. "I own that. But I'm driven to make a difference. When politics stood in the way of a full-day kindergarten or tougher gun laws, I charged ahead."
Emanuel's famously profane, hard-charging political style contributed to what his team expected would be a walk to another four years in office becoming a nail-biter that he could actually lose. About four-and-a-half years ago, then-DC Mayor Adrian Fenty did the same thing. In August 2010, with polls showing him plummeting against DC Council Chairman Vince Gray, Fenty cut an advertisement attempting to apologize for his own brash demeanor.
"I know I've made mistakes," Fenty said in the minute-long spot. "Going forward, I'll learn from them, and be more inclusive."
Fenty's ad wasn't a simple message of "I'm a jerk, and I'll be nicer in the future." It was wrapped around a not-very-veiled suggestion that a vote for the other guy was a vote for the "bad old days" of high crime rates, shoddy city finances, and federal control board oversight. Emanuel's current ad is a bit more dour than Fenty's—the Chicago mayor delivers his mea culpa in a single take in a placid living room, compared to Fenty's mix of action shots and newspaper headlines—but it hits the same beats: Vote for me, or the city will fall.
"I'm not always going to get it right, but when it comes to Chicago and Chicago's future, no one's going to fight harder," Emanuel says.
But urging voters to go with the jerk they know instead of the challenger they don't is far from a safe bet. DC's voters in 2010 didn't find Fenty's message sincere, and sent him packing by a seven-point margin just a few weeks after the ad started airing. Emanuel is presenting his hangdog act with a bit more time to spare, but he's still skirting awfully close to the edge of political sincerity. There's no guarantee that, like Fenty, Emanuel won't wind up being seen as backtracking or full of lame excuses.
It's very rare for a big-city mayor to apologize for being a jerk and not get punished for it. The strategy worked for Philadelphia Mayor John Street in 2003, who despite a first term that brought lower crime rates and higher property values, was hampered by his reputation for having a "prickly personality." Although popular in Philadelphia's black neighborhoods, Street's cool reception in white precincts nearly tipped the contest to Republican challenger Sam Katz. Street's solution? His campaign, advised by future Barack Obama mastermind David Axelrod and future Fenty consultant Tom Lindenfeld, ran a commercial featuring an appearance by a well-known Philadelphian named Bill Cosby.