Josh Kurtz: What’s in a Name?

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For the past year we have seen hundreds of reminders that a competitive race in Maryland’s 8th congressional district is different from elections everyplace else.

Whether it’s the pedigree of the contenders, their ability to raise and spend money, their prior links to Capitol Hill and national policy debates, and the political sophistication of the electorate, there’s nothing quite like a Democratic primary where candidates are pandering to voters who imagine themselves as the next Deputy Secretary of Something in the Hillary Clinton administration.

We add to this list another phenomenon unique to District 8 that we’ve recently detected: The ability of candidates to name drop.

You expect a certain amount of name-dropping in any Democratic contest anyplace: President Obama, Martin Luther King, the Kennedys or Clintons maybe. But we realized the practice in the 8th had run amok when one of the candidates at a recent debate named-checked Jan Schakowsky.

Huh?

That would be the liberal congresswoman from the suburbs of Chicago whose husband, incidentally, pleaded guilty to bank fraud in the 1990’s. A male candidate brought her up as he was mentioning women in public office whom he admired.

So we decided, at a candidate debate two weeks ago, to tally all the name-dropping, which we present to you now as a public service – and without comment.

Remember, not all candidates name-check to associate themselves with someone in a positive way. Sometimes the practice is designed to evoke a boogeyman. Here’s how it went at this debate in Rockville, in chronological order:

Kathleen Matthews: Jack Evans (the D.C. city councilman).

Joel Rubin: Frank Lautenberg (the late New Jersey senator).

David Anderson: Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Will Jawando: Ted Kennedy.

Ana Sol Gutierrez: The Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Kumar Barve: Milennials.

Jamie Raskin: Alex Mooney!

Raskin: Chris Van Hollen.

Raskin: Scott Brown (the former Massachusetts senator).

Raskin: Chief Justice John Roberts.

Raskin: John Sarbanes.

Jawando: John Lewis (the civil rights icon and Georgia congressman).

Jawando: Eric Holder.

Jawando: Patrick Leahy (the U.S. senator from Vermont).

Jawando: Terri Sewell (Democratic congresswoman from Alabama).

Dan Bolling: Jeb Bush.

Jawando: Lisa Jackson (former EPA administrator).

Jawando: Millenials.

Rubin: Schakowsky.

Rubin: Donna Edwards.

Gutierrez: “That ALEC agenda.”

Raskin: My mom.

Raskin: My wife.

Raskin: Nine past presidents of the Women’s Democratic Club of Montgomery County.

Barve: NARAL.

Boling: Conscientious objector.

Gutierrez: Bill Clinton.

Barve: Bob Ehrlich.

Rubin: My wife.

Raskin: Thomas Jefferson.

David Trone: The ACLU.

Gutierrez: “Civil disobedience is my middle name.”

Barve: Kurt Schmoke.

Jawando: Schmoke.

Rubin: JFK.

Matthews: Donald Trump.

Jawando: Harry Reid.

Jawando: Nancy Pelosi.

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Speaking of the 8th district primary, the best article we’ve read on the contest – better even than The New York Times piece from last week that quoted me – came out late Friday and hasn’t received much attention. It was an analysis from the Center for Responsive Politics of all the fundraising that has taken place in the race.

Titled “The Hillary Clinton of the Maryland 8th?” it was the type of analysis that newspapers used to do back in the day – but have largely abandoned for lack of resources.

With a free-spending multi-millionaire in the race, with two candidates whose fundraising has exceeded $1 million, and with at least three others who have raised several hundred thousand dollars each, money is a huge factor in the Democratic primary, and it has dominated the public discourse in many ways, in part because there isn’t a lot to distinguish the candidates on the issues.

But most of the conversation has been about the tactical impacts of all the spending – rather than where it’s coming from and what it’s being used for.

Trone has sought to make a virtue of the fact that he’s self-funding his bid. It means, he says, that he’ll be uniquely independent in Congress, beholden to no one. His opponents, he adds, are “going to have to listen to other folks who gave the money…You’re going to run the risk of being someone else’s congressman.”

OK, fair enough. An independent congressman who doesn’t have to slavishly raise money has undeniable appeal.

But what does that say about our political system? Is the optimal Congress really one with 535 self-funders?

And well before he became a candidate, Trone has used money to work the system – as a campaign donor and to hire lobbyists – to get his way in business.

The Center for Responsive Politics article, meanwhile, details all the money that Matthews (the “Hillary Clinton” in the headline) has collected for her campaign from power brokers, media celebrities, bankers, lawyers, lobbyists, corporate chieftains and other members of the D.C. elite. It’s as if all the bold-faced names that appear in the Washington Post “Reliable Sources” column and in Washington Life magazine have come together to support one of their own.

More ominously, a story that first appeared Friday on the liberal news websiteThe Intercept and was later amplified in The New York Post, suggested that Matthews’ husband, MSNBC host Chris Matthews, may be shaking down guests that he puts on his show “Hardball” to make contributions to his wife’s campaign. The site found $79,000 in contributions to Kathleen Matthews’ campaign from “Hardball” guests – many made immediately before or after their appearances on the show.

Raskin comes in from some grilling in the Center for Responsive Politics report as well. It notes that while his donors include some heroes of the left, the list also features some folks who are D.C. powerbrokers in their own right – not to mention a tech entrepreneur who seeded a Super PAC associated with the presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

The article also notes that there are several well-known donors – including auto magnate Jack Fitzgerald, real estate developer Nathan Landow, and former White House press secretary Michael McCurry – who have given to multiple candidates in the 8th district race.

The corrosive influence of money in politics is an old, sad story. But when it rears its ugly head in your own backyard, the stink gets a little worse, and you can’t help but take offense.

If ever there was an argument for mandatory public funding of congressional campaigns, here it is.

 

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily on Capitol Hill. He can be reached at . Follow him on Twitter -- @joshkurtznews
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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.


But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.


The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.


In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.


Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.