By Glynis Kazanjian
A Democratic candidate seeking public campaign financing in Montgomery’s most competitive County Council District said he will use Crowdpac, an Internet-based crowdfunding platform that draws donors from across the country, to raise money for his campaign.
“Crowdpac in California will be doing independent fundraising for me,” said Tony Puca, a self-described progressive Democrat who filed his candidacy May 24. “It’s an extension of my endorsement from Bernie [Sanders] in 2016.”
Last year, Puca lost badly in the Democratic primary to Rep. John Delaney in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, getting 15% of the vote, and ran fifth in a six-way race for a House of Delegates seat in 2010. He’s run for four other offices, winning only a seat on the Democratic Central Committee in 1994.
Montgomery’s public campaign finance laws prohibit candidates from accepting campaign contributions from PACs or organized political committees. Fundraising through Crowdpac, however, is permitted, according to the State Board of Elections.
“If [candidates] want to use online services to fundraise, they still have to meet the [filing] requirements of name, address and amount, but they also need to make sure there is a signature from the individual who made the contribution,” State Board Campaign Finance Director Jared DeMarinis said. “There is an additional layer of requirements to receive matching funds” for the new county program.
Crowdfunding involves raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, usually on the Internet.
Rice’s plans uncertain
The potential impact of Puca’s fundraising move could make the District 2 race even more competitive than originally thought, especially if incumbent Councilmember Craig Rice does not seek re-election.
Rice has reportedly formed a steering committee to consider running for county executive; he is also said to be considering an at-large council seat. He is not commenting publicly on his plans.
The up-county rural district has the largest number of registered Republican and independent (unaffiliated) voters of the council’s five district seats. Two Republicans, Tom Ferleman and Ed Amatetti, have already filed for the seat, as has Puca. Amatetti has filed his intent to use public campaign funds. Ferleman is strongly considering it.
In 2016, the District overwhelmingly voted in favor of term limits for county politicians, 79% to 21%, the highest winning margin among the five council districts. There are nine County Council members in Montgomery. Four run at-large and five in geographic district seats.
Four County Council seats will be opening next year due to newly imposed term limits, which passed in a referendum last year.
GOP sees things looking up
Montgomery County Republican Party Chair Dick Jurgena, said he thinks things are looking up for Republicans in the county.
“We feel this year things have changed a bit because of the vote on term limits,” Jurgena said. “We got 70% of the vote; only 30% of the voters were Republicans. That means we had to pull a lot of independents, and that still doesn’t make up the difference, so that means we pulled a lot of Democrats.”
Amatetti said he’s been talking to a lot of people outside of the Republican Party.
“I’m getting a lot of help,” Amatetti said. “There are more people interested in getting balance on our council. Civic and taxpayers groups. Many say it’s been far too long that the primary has been more important in the elections than the general. It’s time to have some Republicans somewhere. I get that feedback from all people.”
Amatetti said geographically voters want more representation in the upcounty. And he hears a lot how people are concerned that most of the representation on the council is in Takoma Park.
Jurgena, who received 40% of the vote when he ran for the District 2 County Council seat in 2014 on a $5,000 budget, says the Republican Party is making advances.
“We had a record Lincoln Day dinner,” Jurgena said of the party’s annual fundraising dinner this year. “We’re getting donations from people we never have before. Precincts are better organized than ever.”
Expecting Rice to seek re-election
Ferleman’s campaign has picked up 500 “Likes” on its Facebook page, since it launched last February, and his donor database is now very large, he said.
“They’re organic Likes,” Ferleman said. “A Like doesn’t translate to a vote, but it’s momentum. They are coming to us, not us going to them. Bar none, we have the best social media platforms of any candidate, including Craig Rice. We have the best email marketing, the best website and all of our platforms are integrated so they are communicating to themselves.”
Ferleman said he believes Rice will seek re-election, and the focus of his campaign will be on the incumbent.
“We believe [Rice] is going to stay in District 2,” Ferleman said. “Everything points to it. He will get completely creamed if he goes to county executive. George Leventhal will demolish him. If Trone were to enter that race, Rice doesn’t have a prayer. He doesn’t have the momentum, the strength. We are going after him directly.”
Puca said he is not concerned whether Rice runs for re-election or not.
“It doesn’t make any difference to me,” Puca said. “I believe he will be an easier person to beat than any of the other guys. I’m not running against Craig Rice. I’m running on my own merits. I’ve done more than Craig Rice has ever done.”
Jurgena said he believes county residents are fed up with a one-party system. Currently all nine County Councilmembers are Democrats, and so is the County Executive, Ike Leggett.
“I’ve had a lot say we need the other side having some say in the system in order to have any control,” Jurgena said. “Last year when they [the Council] gave themselves a $13,000 raise and gave residents a 8.9% real estate tax hike — that was the final straw. I think people are just fed up.”
Councilmember Rice would not agree to be interviewed for this article because it is related to his election plans, Deputy Chief of Staff Sharon Ledner said.