Sobhani becomes surprise contender by pouring millions into sleepy U.S. Senate race

Rob Sobhani

Rob Sobhani

By Len Lazarick

The U.S. Senate campaign in Maryland was plodding along quietly this fall. Democrat Ben Cardin, the incumbent liberal seeking a second term, was blithely fending off upstart conservative Republican Dan Bongino, a political novice who left a career in the Secret Service to try to end Cardin’s 46-year career in elected office.

Suddenly in September, independent Rob Sobhani began popping up on TV screens across Maryland. He talked directly to voters about his plans to create thousands of jobs with billions in private investment and he was spending millions of his own money to get his message out.

Cardin, Bongino alarmed

Cardin raised the alarm with his financial backers. “A conservative millionaire entered the race, using his own cash to buy up TV ads in an attempt to capture the election at the eleventh hour,” Cardin said in an email Tuesday.

Cardin has a huge financial edge over Bongino, raising $4 for every dollar the Republican raises — more than $4 million to slightly more than $1 million. The latest official Sept. 30 fundraising reports are not available, but Sobhani’s campaign has already spent $4.4 million on the race, more than the other two campaigns combined.

Sobhani’s money is paying off. A Gonzales poll released last week shows him neck and neck with Bongino at 21% each, splitting voters looking for an alternative to Cardin, who has 50% support.

The Sobhani family

The Sobhani family

The Bongino camp was perplexed. “After 16 months of countless interviews, surveys, and a grueling primary election Dan Bongino’s candidacy has been thoroughly examined,” deputy campaign manager Sharon Stern said in an email. “Senator Cardin’s 45 year record of voting for tax increases is extensively recorded. Rob Sobhani, however, has had far less scrutiny regarding his background, thanks in part to the convenient timing of his entry into the race for U.S. Senate.”

Republicans asked: What about all that money he spent on outside firms to collect signatures to put him on the ballot? One of those firms, Arno Political Consultants, has been accused of deceptive practices in other campaigns. How can a man who ran twice for Senate as a Republican claim to be an independent outsider? What about his ties to Middle East autocrats he has worked with in his energy company, Caspian GroupHoldings, that has brought him his wealth?

Sobhani unconcerned

In an interview, Sobhani was unconcerned about the charges, especially one about buying the election. “It’s unfortunate when someone doesn’t have concrete ideas, they go on the attack…. Neither man has concrete ideas to move Maryland forward.”

Is he concerned that one of the firms he hired to collect signatures has been accused of fraud?  “No,” Sobhani replies simply.

“I got more signatures than Dan Bongino got votes in the primary,” Sobhani said. “That’s a diversion from the real issues.”

And, campaign manager Sam Patten points out, the signatures were verified by the Boards of Elections. (As of his June 30 report, Sobhani had spent $144,000 collecting signatures, with $42,000 going to Arno.)


Sobhani's book on King Abdullah

Sobhani’s book on King Abdullah

Proud of his ties to Middle East leaders

What about his ties to the Middle East leaders?

“I’m proud of my connections,” Sobhani says. “I’m proud to know the president of Azerbaijan,” with one of the biggest synagogues in the Caucasus and some of the largest oil reserves. “I’m proud to know the king of Bahrain … to know King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia … the amir of Qatar,” lots of Israelis, Norwegians and others involved in the oil and energy business.

Sobhani, who has a Ph.D. in political economy from Georgetown University and has taught there, doesn’t just know King Abdullah. He’s written a laudatory book about the Saudi ruler that came out this year, and he gave a video talk on the book on the man he sees as a progressive Arab statesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

It is these energy-rich nations that would be the source of Sobhani’s grand promises to bring thousands of jobs to Maryland through public-private partnerships and major infrastructure projects, such as $3 billion to build a deck on the Capital and Baltimore beltways or $500 million for cancer research.

“I’ve done those kind of projects before,” Sobhani says. “If I don’t achieve them, I’m not going to run again.”

Sounds like he’s running for governor

All this makes it sound like he’s running for governor, rather than U.S. Senate.

“I can create jobs the moment I get elected,” putting together trips to the Middle East for Maryland businesses, he says. “There are opportunities in the global economy that Mr. Cardin never in a million years could understand or act on…. Texas and California are eating our lunch. Someone is not doing their job.”

Politicians like Cardin are “dishing out your money and my money and claiming to be heroes. That’s taking advantage of a broken system.”

Aside from the wealth that is making his campaign possible, Sobhani is running as an independent because “I believe both political parties are bereft of ideas. We have a moral deficit, but we also have a political deficit. We’re filling in the void.”

Favors flat tax

What we haven’t seen in the Sobhani ads are some of his positions on hot button issues this campaign year, such as taxes and the budget.

“It’s a corrupt tax code.” Sobhani says. “That’s the fundamental objection that I have. And it only serves the interest of crony capitalism; it does not serve the interest of the average individual. I believe in the flat tax. I believe in a transparent tax.”

His “flat” tax would have two rates, “one for the rich and one for the rest.” And he would maintain only three itemized deductions: mortgage interest, charitable donations and — a new one — the costs of college.

“I don’t know how the United States budget works,” he says. “It’s not transparent.” He adds that he would need to hire an independent forensic accountant to figure out the spending. “These guys — Democrats and Republicans — have bastardized our budget system.”


Sobhani's book on immigration

Sobhani’s book on immigration

Immigration at the core of budget problems

Perhaps the issue that sets him most apart is his detailed stance on immigration, the subject of another book he published this year, “Press 2 for English.”

“There’s a direct correlation between immigration and [federal] debt,” says Sobhani, and to structural unemployment. He’s referring primarily to the 1.4 million people who enter the country legally each year, not illegally, many a part of “chain migration” in which talented engineers and scientists gain entry, then bring over their parents and siblings, who are often a drain on U.S. resources.

It is an unusual stance for someone who was born in Kansas and moved with his parents to their native Iran and maintains wide connections throughout the world.

“It’s a failed foreign policy that leads to immigration,” Sobhani says. “People leave their country because of lack of opportunity and hope.”

“Mexico has all the ingredients of a successful country,” natural resources and a hard working people, he adds. But it has a corrupt political system that leads people to flee. “Who gets the short end? The middle class of America.”

“We need to create wealth south of the border,” Sobhani says. “We need to create opportunity in Russia.”

“It’s the most devastating thing to the African-American population,” and the cause of so much inner-city unemployment. With more controls on immigration of all types, “you would not see the poverty that you see in Baltimore.”

Sobhani lays out an immigration plan in the book that includes making English the official language, encouraging more and faster assimilation and putting a five-year moratorium on all immigration, with less permissive policies on family reunification.

No debates so far

So far, Sobhani has not had an opportunity to defend his views before Cardin and Bongino, who have been negotiating about debates this month. Several media outlets have offered a venue for a three-way broadcast debate, but neither the Democrat nor Republican has agreed. Sobhani has already aired TV ads about being shut out from debates.

A fourth candidate for U.S. Senate, Libertarian Dean Ahmad, will also appear on the ballot, but according to the Federal Election Commission, Ahmad has filed no reports of campaign financing activity. Candidates need not file such reports if they have neither raised nor spent $5,000 in the campaign. Four candidates are also registered as write-ins.

For more on Rob Sobhani, watch the 10-minute video on

About The Author

Len Lazarick

Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.


  1. no_limit_neckbeard

    It’s time for 2/3 of the state legislatures to pass resolutions ordering Congress to call a constitutional convention for amendments. Then the convention delegates can draft an amendment that slaps a 12-year total term limit on Congress. No more career politicians, just citizen legislators.

  2. Karl H. Schumaker

    Mr. Sobhani, your intentions are honorable. But your running as a third party candidate will allow Cardin to be reelected by a dilution of the vote

    and has the appearance of a Democrat styled
    method of diluting the votes for the incumbent. Former Republican Representative Gilchrist
    did this same thing when he pretended to be a Republican but voted as a Democrat.
    He always had several other persons run against him to keep a real Republican
    from getting enough votes to beat him in the primaries. When he was
    finally beaten by Representative Andrew Harris, his true allegiance came out
    when he backed the Democrat in the national election.

    If you would withdraw, the democratic process would let the peoples voice be heard. If you continue, both you and the other candidate will both lose.

  3. Parrotisla

    I’m sick of Dems in the state getting elected just because their dems and we have 2 to 1 margin of dems in this state. They dont care about us, all they want to do is take all of our money spend it, raise the budget some more to give another reason to raise taxes. Hey you know there are other ways to increase tax revenue, it’s called low taxes and increased economic growth, you know the same policies we had in the 90’s! If you tax 100% you get no tax revenue cause no one will work, if you tax 0% you get no revenue obviously because its zero. You have to find a low productive % that will get us moving in the correct dirtection and raising taxes over and over again is eating us alive and destroying all of our American Dreams. Oh but since 47% of Americans dont pay taxes that 47% that does not give a crap about tax rates.

    • BOB

      Active duty troops in war zones do not pay federal tax. Hoe dare you say anything negaTIVE ABOUT THEM !.

  4. abby_adams

    Cardin hasn’t lived up to his promises made during the last election. Given his long record in House & now the Senate, why would anyone think he would change & become an independent thinker? Mr. Sobhani is getting attention because of his slick commercials relying on the sheeple voters disillusioned with the one party rule in MD & the overall direction of the country. He’s betting we won’t do our homework, as usual & put him in charge.
    I’ve got to give Bongino some credit, he jumped into a race against a entrenched politican who shows little concern for the voice of anyone who doesn’t pull the Dem lever on election day. He may have only lived in MD for 10 yrs but why would that disqualify him from wanting to become more involved in the direction of his community? Like so many others that sent a message to Congress in 2010, I’ll be sending one this Nov as well. We can talk, plead & argue with power until we’re blue in the face. The only message they understand is the outcome on election day! Do we rehire them or send them packing?

    • Timiklo

      – Is Bongino middle class ? Secret service agents make 150k a year, he also owns a couple “successful businesses”. According to data that would put Bongino is in the top 18 percentile. Is that middle class to you ? I sure wish I made that much money. His policies are aimed at helping the rich get richer.
      – Is Bongino an outsider ? He worked for the government for 17 years in DC with our taxpayer money. He’s got no experience whatsoever.

      Sobhani is getting attention because he is offering people a third choice, he’s refreshing, and qualified for the job.
      Vote Sobhani for jobs, vote Bongino for lower taxes that won’t lead to jobs and will endebt our nation, vote Cardin for government spending and higher taxes that won’t create jobs either. Sobhani is running because he knows that cutting/increasing taxes and increasing or decreasing spending isn’t enough, you have to work to get those jobs, you have to fight for your state. If he doesn’t accomplish his plan, he won’t run for a second term. I say give him the chance and hold him accountable. We need a new style of politics.

      • Wendy Susanna Onsted

        What in the heck does owning a couple of businesses have to do with understanding the plight of the middle class? It’s time for all of the whiners to get off of their duffs and do what it takes to be successful. Dan Bongino applied for the job with the Secret Service and he honorably served his country. Enough of this class warfare BS.

        Have you ever even met, Dan? Have you stood outside in 100 degree plus heat WITH him to wave signs as he met and engaged with the voters? He has campaigned without a break for months on end. Sobhani just throws cash at the campaign and expects the same result. And you find Sobhani to be the refreshing one and the alternate choice? YOU are what’s wrong with Maryland.

        • Timiklo

          Well Bongino’s argument is that he understands the plight of the middle class because he is middle class. My argument is that 1. You don’t have to be middle class to understand the issue 2. He isn’t necessarily middle class but quite well off. Bongino IS ENGAGING HIMSELF IN CLASS WARFARE by saying that the other two candidates don’t understand the middle class because they are rich !
          No I haven’t met Dan, I don’t vote based on personality, I’m sure he’s a great guy and a hard worker, but I vote on issues and experience. I don’t find your “you are what’s wrong” very civil. Sobhani is refreshing because the Republican party as gone too far right to my taste and the Democrats too far left, Sobhani is bringing it back to the middle, where civil discourse and agreement can only exist.

        • Rita

          Sobhani doesn’t “throw” away cash. Have you looked at his twitter and facebook sites? He’s been all over the place meeting with people, talking with regular folks, and making promises he actually intends to keep. That is his whole platform: accountability. Bonguido.. Oh sorry Bongino, has made no promises or pledges close to the capacity that Sobhani can do. Not to mention Cardin super low approval rating. And how long has Cardin been in office?? 40 YEARS! We can do so much better.

      • greg

        Sobhani is a loser. has no idea what he is talking about when you corner him

  5. Frank

    I think Cardin is a very good senator, but I for one – a liberal Democrat – cannot continue to make these people elected officials for life. this is a chance to send a message.

    • Paula

      Sorry, with the Senate at stake for the Democrats, your reasoning is sorely flawed. This is not the time to “send a message.”

      • Timiklo

        So when is it the time to send a message to a Congress which has a 10% approval rating ?

      • Colin Leach

        This mentality represents everything wrong with American politics in the modern day: “The Wrong Side absolutely must not one.” I am tired of politics as usual- we have to do something before this country goes down the tubes, no matter which party is at the helm.

      • Mary Beth Crafts

        You are absolutely right. Congress is still ruled by seniority, and, until that changes, defeating Ben Cardin would be a loss for Maryland and its citizens!

      • rita

        It is time for us to send a message. Your statement goes to show that partisan politics has divided this country. We need to break that divide and it starts with this.

  6. Greg

    This guy is a two time failed Republican nominee who then donated to Dems who didn’t want him either. Google this guy for more disturbing information. He paid per signature to get on the ballot and even then had a problem.

    • Timiklo

      Hey Greg I have a couple questions regarding your candidate Bongino if you don’t mind:
      – How long has Bongino lived in Maryland ? His wikipedia page says 10 years. Does he truly represent Marylanders ?
      – Is Bongino middle class ? Secret service agents make 150k a year, he also owns a couple “successful businesses”. According to data that would put Bongino is in the top 18 percentile. Is that middle class to you ? I sure wish I made that much money.
      – Is Bongino an outsider ? He worked for the government for 17 years in DC with our taxpayer money, I wonder what connections he made while over there.

      • TurtleGirl

        Dan Bongino, unlike other candidates, quit his nicely paying government job to run for office. He isn’t running on your dime. His wife is a working mom. The other businesses are mainly run by her. They are a hard working family who have made themselves successful. He has had two children born in Maryland. He has run himself ragged going from one end of his territory to the other to get his message out. Before you make your decision Timiko, get out and meet the candidates. Just reading about them on their websites isn’t enough.

        • Mattyb079

          So he should get my vote because he quit his job?

        • Nicole

          fwiw, under the hatch act, Bongino was required to quit his federal job to run for office.

          also, I met Bongino… didn’t like him.

          • greg

            he didnt like you either

    • lenlazarick

      I hadn’t checked campaign contributions on the Federal Elections Commission site. In the last 15 years, Rob Sobhani donated $7,150 to federal campaigns, $2,000 to George Bush, $1,000 to Michael Steele, lesser amounts to George Allen, Tom Tancredo, Peter King, Roscoe Bartlett, and a couple others, all Republicans. The only contribution to a Democrat, and the only one in the last six years was $1,000 to Milad Pooran in 2011 probably the most liberal Democrat seeking the nomination to unseat Rep. Roscoe Bartlett in the 6th CD. Possibly Pooran’s status as an Iranian immigrant who became a doctor had something to do with it.

      There were no recorded donations to any state candidates, according to the State Board of Elections database.

      • Nicole

        Follow the Money has $4,838 in donations from Sobhani to (Maryland) state candidates since 1998, all to Republicans. The biggest donations were $1,400 to Michael Steele (?) during the 2002 gubernatorial race and $2,400 to Ellen Saurbrey’s campaign for governor in 1998.

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