As of Monday the on-ballot field for Maryland’s U.S. Senate seat was set. While three candidates set out to be placed on the ballot by petition, only one succeeded and that’s centrist independent Neal Simon.
One point that has been made about Simon’s run is that it’s eerily reminiscent of a similar effort the last time Ben Cardin was on the ballot. In 2012, as a Senator seeking re-election for the first time, Cardin was placed against a young, dynamic candidate in Dan Bongino who was a TEA Party favorite. Nearly three months after the primary, two-time GOP primary loser Rob Sobhani jumped into the race as an independent candidate. While polling data suggests Cardin would have won the race in either case (he received 56% of the final vote) there can be an argument made that having the third candidate, who was also running in a populist, change-oriented lane – Sobhani’s big idea was government investing in a series of public-private partnerships, perhaps because he saw an opportunity to help his investment firm – may have chopped Bongino’s already underfunded campaign off at the knees. FEC records show that Sobhani loaned himself nearly $8 million to run the race. That was 98% of his campaign income.
Fast forward six years and in comes another financial guru in Neal Simon. However, there are some differences – not the least of which is that Simon has “only” contributed about $550,000 to his own campaign so far.
Unlike the Sobhani effort, which was basically self-funded, Simon is getting a lot of outside help. But I found it interesting that many of the high-dollar, maximum donations come from out of state and from couples who are maxing out as husband and wife (or in one case, father and college-age daughter) where the woman’s occupation is listed as “homemaker” or (in the case of the daughter) “student” – yet they apparently have $5,400 lying around to donate to the primary and general campaigns. (That’s interesting as well, since Simon had no primary as an unaffiliated candidate. Yet it is perfectly legal.)
The theory floating around is, of course, that Simon is a Democrat plant whose purpose is to split the GOP vote. But after spending a few evenings poring over the contribution data from this subset of “max donors” – those who have added $2,700 or more to the Simon kitty – I tend to doubt this idea. Out of 91 donors who I checked via the OpenSecrets website, which categorizes donations to federal candidates, there were 17 who had no record of donating before. This only seems unusual because most people start out small and work their way up, not drop up to $10,800 as a couple into a political campaign as their first contribution.
But the political leanings of these more regular donors spanned the gamut, from huge donors to Democrats and their causes to a handful that could be described as staunch Republicans. (One of those is the wife of a social media friend I often see promoting the Hogan re-election campaign.) Overall I would describe the donor list as skewing Democrat, but there are a few who are big believers in the centrist advocacy group Unite America (whose logo and color scheme is very much like Simon’s) and a PAC called People Over Politics (not to be confused with a hardcore leftist advocacy website.) The People Over Politics PAC has several Simon donors as its main base of support and guess what they are spending on?
Now that pushes up a few red flags – as well as the question about working around individual donation limits given the amount this PAC has raised from just six donors. Out of the six, only one has been heavily into politics prior to this, and he’s been a relatively faithful GOP donor. So why the change? Let’s look at what Simon says. (Yes, I intended the pun.)
His top issue is – of course – one of unity, and bringing us together. Now I can’t argue with the idea but that doesn’t give me much in the way of principles.
Next up is the idea of changing how Washington works. I’m cool with the ideas of independent commissions to create legislative districts and term limits, but I have to know more about the concepts of the new Senate rules Neal favors. On the other hand, I don’t favor open primaries.
But the funny part to me is where he states:
The corrupting influence of money in politics is at the heart of congressional dysfunction. We can use this election to spur on campaign finance reform and make meaningful changes to the system. We can start by bringing transparency to election spending, making politicians reveal the sources of “dark money” campaign donations – donations that currently have no limit. I support the DISCLOSE Act, which requires all organizations spending money in elections to file reports that include donors of $10,000 or more.
Did I not just say the guy has a SuperPAC with six donors of $25,000 or more working on his behalf? Shouldn’t he take the leap and say this? I suppose that would be considered coordination (and that’s a no-no) but there’s more than a wink going on here.
Neal’s next priority is jobs, which is fine. But this line is priceless, too, given my context:
As a CEO who has led five companies, I have extensive experience connecting and persuading other business leaders,
He’s persuaded a lot of them to pony up $2,700 or more, that’s for sure. And Neal is a little behind the curve: why eliminate just one existing regulation for every new one when we have a President axing twenty or more per new one? That’s more my speed.
And then we come to health care, where Simon says:
First, we have a moral obligation to provide adequate, affordable health care coverage to its citizens.
Actually, no we don’t – at least not at the behest of government, because government is not the solution to the problem. I would argue that government is causing many of the problems, particularly when it comes to costs. To make health care affordable we have to create the conditions where it can become more affordable – unfortunately, government does a poor job of that on a national level.
Simon then addresses an 800-pound gorilla in our room:
If we don’t get our debt and spending problems under control, inflation will have a disastrous effect on jobs and the economy. Currently, our interest payments alone amount to $310 billion—the fourth largest budget item after Social Security, defense, Medicare and Medicaid.
The last I checked, only one of those items is mandated in the Constitution, and it’s not the entitlements. Yet, starting at the top, no one wants to do anything about any of those EXCEPT cut defense spending. I can agree to that to a point in that we don’t need bases in practically every nation, but the sad truth is we don’t know where the next hotspot will be and we’ve taken it upon ourselves to be the world’s cop. So there we stand.
Where Simon truly loses me though is where he’s part of the “path to citizenship” crowd and gets into the realm of what he calls “common sense gun safety laws.” Basically if you were mad at Larry Hogan for flouting the Second Amendment you won’t be much for Simon either.
So to me it’s rank hypocrisy for Simon to say on his website, “Government should represent ‘We, the people’ – not the party bosses or those who can buy access to power,” (my emphasis) yet have the donor list he has and a PAC working for his cause. It’s just more politics as usual. Neal is a guy I wouldn’t mind sitting down with for a political discussion (at least he seems down-to-earth judging from a brief chat we had at the Tawes event) but I don’t think he has much in common with anyone politically right of center. This is especially true when you look at his own donation record, which is very left-leaning: out of $11,000 Neal has donated over the years, $8,000 has gone to Democrats and left-leaning PACs, with $2,500 going to fellow independent Craig O’Dear and an almost random $500 donation to Mitt Romney in 2011.
Having said that, though, I still wish Neal all the success in the world – in taking votes away from Ben Cardin. Wouldn’t it be funny (and great for Maryland and the nation) if his campaign splits the Democrat vote enough to send a Maryland conservative – who would all but kill to have the bankroll the People Over Politics PAC has, let alone nearly 100 max donors – to the United States Senate?
Considering the alternative is Tweedledum with a D or Tweedledee with an I (who, based on political philosophy, will probably caucus with the Democrats anyway), you may as well elect someone who has principles.