Congressman, Actress, and Federal Economist Among Maryland’s Top Donors

By GRACIE TODD, Capital News Service

Three Maryland couples – including Rep. David Trone and his wife, June – contributed more to federal campaigns this cycle than all the other 1.7 million reported contributions under $15 in the state combined, illustrating one way, according to some analysts, in which the wealthy have outsized political influence. 

The Trones, along with Stewart and Sandra Bainum of Howard County and Chani and Steven Laufer of Montgomery County, have given a combined total of over $8.3 million to House, Senate and presidential elections since the start of 2019, almost entirely to Democratic committees, according to Federal Election Commission records current through Oct 14. 

Those six people accounted for $4.5 million in donations to former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign and supporting groups. They gave around $28,000 to congressional candidates in Maryland, and at least $900,000 to congressional candidates in 29 other states.

Those candidates included incumbent Democratic Reps. Katie Porter of California; Elissa Slotkin of Michigan; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California; and Democratic Sens. Doug Jones of Alabama and Gary Peters of Michigan. 

Trone represents Maryland’s Sixth District in the House and co-owns Total Wine & More, an alcohol retail chain. He gave over $1.4 million to federal races. June gave over $830,000. 

Stewart Bainum gave over $3.2 million. He is a former member of the Maryland General Assembly, serving in both the House and Senate. He unsuccessfully campaigned for Congress twice in the 1980s and considered a run for governor in the 1990s. Bainum leads Choice Hotels International, which has a presence in over 40 countries and was founded by his father. His wife Sandra, who has produced a full-length film and acted on Broadway, gave over $1.1 million. 

Chani and Steven Laufer gave over $960,000 and $730,000, respectively. Chani is a former lawyer and journalist, and Steven is an economist at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.

Only the Laufers gave any money to Republican committees, each contributing the maximum amount permitted by an individual to a candidate in a single election: $2,800, to Jeff Van Drew, a New Jersey GOP congressman running for reelection.

Michael J. Wallace of Annapolis appeared to be the largest Republican-leaning donor, giving over $340,000, including over $130,000 to committees supporting President Donald Trump and over $33,000 to congressional candidates in 10 states outside of Maryland, FEC records show. Wallace advises the president on homeland security as a member of the National Infrastructure Advisory Council. 

The Trones, Bainums, Laufers and Wallace did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Donors giving over $100,000 in an election cycle are part of an elite group, representing less than 0.00001% of the United States population, but accounting for over one-fifth of all contributions to federal elections, according to figures released by the Center for Responsive Politics in late September. 

The candidate who raises the most wins roughly 9 out of 10 times in House elections and roughly 8 out of 10 times in Senate elections, according to the center, which is nonpartisan. In 2016, Trump was the first presidential candidate since 1976 to win against a candidate with a bigger budget.

Wealthy donors may have a greater impact on policy-making, along with campaign contributions, according to research from Princeton University, the American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Economics and Management Strategy, the University of Utah, and other organizations. 

“The evidence shows that wealthy individuals have more political influence,” Tabatha Abu El-Haj, law professor at Drexel University’s Thomas R. Kline School of Law, told Capital News Service, adding “how much of that is a product of donations is less clear.” 

Abu El-Haj said the influence of wealthy donors can only sometimes be directly traced to their contributions. More often, she said it is a consequence of an increasingly wealthy group of politicians who listen to and interact with other wealthy individuals. 

“It’s not the money that gets (donors) the policy response, it’s the fact that their phone call is going to be picked up by the elected officials,” Abu El-Haj said. “Because they gave in the last election, and because they’ve been at the same parties.”

As the cost of campaigning increases nearly every cycle, Abu El-Haj said, those with elite backgrounds – disproportionately wealthy, white and often educated at top law schools – are more likely to be elected because these candidates tend to “have an initial social network that’s going to bring enough money.”

Over half of lawmakers in Congress are millionaires, according to a Center for Responsive Politics report last spring. The richest member may be Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Georgia, who is halfway to amassing $1 billion. There has not been a single non-millionaire president since Harry S. Truman in 1953.

Charlie Cooper, president of Get Money Out of Maryland, a volunteer group that opposes the influence of big donors in politics, said for wealthy donors, “campaign contributions are chump change.” 

“They’re doing that for access,” Cooper said, adding that this comes with a tradeoff: when wealthy people have greater access to politicians, politicians “can only pay so much attention to their constituents.” 

Cooper and the group he founded in Baltimore advocate for an amendment to the United States Constitution that would require regulation of money in politics “for the sake of political equality.” 

The amendment, proposed in 2019 by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, would effectively overturn Citizens United, a controversial 2010 Supreme Court ruling decided by a 5-4 vote that limiting the amount of money that corporations and other outside groups can spend on elections threatens the First Amendment right to free speech.

“When Government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court’s majority. “This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”  

Then-President Barack Obama, consumer advocate Ralph Nader, then-Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders all expressed opposition to the court’s decision. Obama has said the Citizens United ruling “has caused real harm to our democracy.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has defended removing limits on corporations and outside groups, saying the court decision “leveled the playing field for corporate America and union America” to express their ideas in the same way media organizations do before elections.

But with unlimited corporation and outside group spending, “we feel that they’re drowning out the voices of the people,” Cooper said. “The policies show very clearly that the interest of the average working person just is not taken into account at all.” 

David Primo, a professor of political science and business administration at the University of Rochester, said “the preferences of wealthy donors get heard more in Washington and in state legislatures than the average American.” 

Primo’s research, presented in a book he recently co-authored, “Campaign Finance and American Democracy: What the Public Really Thinks and Why It Matters,” warns that campaign finance reform alone would not restore the public’s trust in government, as the reasons for that distrust are far deeper and broader.

Still, small donors can benefit candidates in ways their wealthier counterparts can’t. 

This year, presidential candidates in the Democratic primary required a certain amount of small donations to qualify for debates. Small donations also “send a signal that a candidate has a broad base of support,” Primo said. 

Julián Pérez-García, a senior at University of Maryland studying government and spanish who gave $8 to Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign last winter, says he doesn’t expect his small contributions to have much impact, but the inequalities in campaign finance are “discouraging, disheartening.”

“We need to change how campaigns are financed, because the fact that it’s even necessary to give that much money to a campaign is unfortunate,” Pérez-García said. 

Pérez-García said he plans to go into government to “affect change from within,” adding that it’s important to be politically active outside of donating. Why did Pérez-García give? “I liked the candidate,” he said. “I think ultimately that’s why anyone should donate, because they like the candidate

Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You – Review
Album art for Letter to You, Bruce Springsteen’s 20th studio album.

Whenever I travel, I always like to have either new music or something old I haven’t heard before to accompany me. Last Friday was just such an occasion. Perhaps what was more fitting, was as I made my way to see family in Asbury Park, NJ, I had the chance to listen to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s new record, Letter to You.

Recorded over the course of five days at Springsteen’s New Jersey farm, Letter to You tells Springsteen’s story. His beginnings in Freehold. His first band. The people he’s loved and lost along the way. There are few records that make me cry. This was one of them.

“Big black train comin’ down the track/ blow your whistle long and long. One minute you’re here, next minute you’re gone.” A poignant reminder of the fragility of life, Springsteen evokes a sound reminiscent of his Nebraska LP on the album opener, “One Minute You’re Here.” The second track, “Letter to You” brings the E Street Band back in full form for the first time in six years.

Every track thereafter is classic Springsteen. 

In “Last Man Standing,” Springsteen tells how he is the only surviving member of his original band, The Castiles, a rockabilly group that frequented a number of bars and clubs around New Jersey. In a similar vein, the album closer “I’ll See You In My Dreams” hits close to anyone who’s lost people close to them. While some may have faith that they will be reunited with loved ones in an afterlife, the only way we can see those loved ones now is when we dream.

“Song for Orphans” perfectly encapsulates some of the problems facing America in 2020. Speaking of “restless loud white boys” and “the axis,” Springsteen tells us of some of the atrocities he’s seen in his days. The chorus is a triumphant mnemonic that the Confederacy or Axis powers will never win, that they aren’t as strong as the forces of good and the forces of true freedom and equality for all. It’s beautiful songwriting that couldn’t be more relevant in today’s climate.

I’ve saved my favorite song for last.

Springsteen wrote “If I Was the Priest” as a demo sometime in 1970 or ‘71 for his first LP, but ultimately never released it. Instead, Allan Clarke of The Hollies recorded and released his own version in 1972. The lyrical work takes us back to the early days of Springsteen, where his words and phrasing seemed faster than light at times, and otherwise downright kismet. Perhaps the biggest difference between Springsteen then and Springsteen now is he puts just a little more space in between words. 

On this song, you can tell Springsteen and the band are just having fun. After all, until this year the only versions available were Bruce’s early demo recording and Clarke’s more polished recording. It’s the timeless tale of outlaws, but told with biblical figures as the key players. Jesus is a sheriff. The Virgin Mary is a saloon keeper. The Holy Ghost runs a burlesque show. After all, who else on this planet could come up with something like that? I’ve been finding myself going back to that song all week.

In addition to the album, Springsteen also released a film chronicling the recording of the album with some stories behind the tracks. Available on Apple TV+, I’d highly recommend the film as a supplement to the LP. In the film, we get to see the E Street Band in their element. Bruce memorializes E Streeter’s they’ve lost: Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici. He gives us a better idea of where he’s coming from with the new material. We also get to meet Springsteen’s cousin Frank who taught him his first guitar chords. At the tail end of the film (post-credits) Bruce and Frank jam out to the first song they ever wrote together.

This album is special. I don’t think there’s an album in recent memory as good as this one. To me, it competes with Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, and Nebraska as my favorite Springsteen record. Perhaps what made it better was driving through Springsteen’s old stomping grounds while I listened to it. While there is so much to be unnerved about in 2020, Bruce Springsteen makes you feel human again, even if for a short period of time.

Tony Sheaffer is managing editor for The Sting and writes Friday Groove, a weekly music column.

The Color Theory: Finding Your Style

Photo: Jeff Dominguez – The Sting

I don’t know about you, but fall has always been my favorite season of the year. This is the time to experiment with different arrangements – ones that are already in your closet combined with ones that you recently just “copped” for the chilly season.

Our bodies change over time every year, as well as that favorite sweatshirt that keeps shrinking in the wash – no, just me?

Anyways, that’s why we shop for new products at every tilt of the Earth’s axis. Seasons change and so do we. Like I previously said in my last post, a change in season can possibly mean a change in your wardrobe.

BUT it does not entirely have to be that way. Of course, you can always stick with the same style that you identity yourself with.

Photo: Jeff Dominguez – The Sting

“But what if I don’t know my style? Or what if I don’t associate myself with an identity?”

Well first off, you actually do have a style! What’s great about streetwear, is that there are no limitations at all! Streetwear is a combination of styles from numerous subcultures, according to Bobby Hundreds of Complex.

Take a look at your closet and notice what all of them have in common. For example, see the similarities that you have for your upper body wear. Compare all your graphic tees, gym/workout shirts, button-ups, hats, jerseys, blouses, dresses, tank tops, or whatever you may have.

Do they all have the same color scheme? Do they all have similar patterns? Are there any cultural ties with them? How do all of these shirts make you feel?

If you are still having trouble figuring that out, find pictures of yourself from the past and start comparing your outfits off of that.

I would say, think deeply about how your clothes represent you and how they make you feel. I know this is cliché, but it always stays true to any advice, do not worry about what other people think about you. Let’s face it, we all live in a world (or country, should I say) where people do not care about how you feel inside. As I saw on Twitter from the other day, “be your own cheerleader”. In most basic terms, be confident in yourself!

Photo: Jeff Dominguez – The Sting

Finding your style does not happen overnight. Tan France, co-host of Netflix’s Queer Eye and guest instructor for Masterclass, says “I’ve helped thousands of people to find their personal style and find a look that makes them feel good about themselves. The most important step I tell my clients is that they must make an effort”.

To add onto that, I believe having the patience with yourself and getting out of your comfort zone is important as well. It takes time and a little inspiration to kickstart a new wardrobe.

Remember, your body is your canvas. You are taking all this time to invest in your aesthetic and showcasing on how you present yourself.

Photo: Jeff Dominguez – The Sting

Also, don’t be so “pressed” about limiting yourself to one specific identity.

If you like the outfit that you got on, if it reminds you of something (ex: say you wear overalls with a striped shirt – hence, the 90s and The Fresh Prince), wear it out!

Everyone should always feel comfortable and confident on whatever they are wearing. If you have any doubts about that particular outfit, maybe it’s not the right time to wear it. But also, do not trash the outfit. Save it for later!

Photo: Jeff Dominguez – The Sting

To sum all of this up, I am proposing “The Triple C Rule” as a method to find your aesthetic – Comfort Zone, Consistency, and Confidence.

  • Step out of your comfort zone. Take time to shop around and try new stuff on. Do a little bit of research and get some inspiration from your family members, friends, an influencer, or whoever it may be.
  • Be consistent with your closet. Find shirts, jackets, shoes that represents you the best.
  • Be confident!

Jeff Dominguez is the Communications Director for The Sting and writes The Color Theory, a bi-weekly fashion column.

Honeycomb Hideout: Too Broke for the Holidays?

Dear Honeycomb Hideout, 

With the holidays approaching, I realized one thing – I don’t have the money to spare to buy gifts for my family or friends. Thinking back, I know the holidays come every year, but this year has been so crazy I didn’t plan it out.  What should I do?  


Less Money Mo Problemz? 

Dear LMMP,  

Let me just say take a breath. The holidays are already a stressful thing that we must all deal with every year. During the holidays, we always have these obligations that we don’t have the rest of the year. This includes gathering with all of our family, answering uncomfortable questions like how’s school? Do you have a bf/gf? Why you don’t call us or home as much?  

These questions alone are why I invested in a flask as well as invented the 3v3 rule, but we’ll get into that in a bit. Let’s address the problem you originally came to me with – not having money to buy gifts for your family. My two cents on this is you’re 23, so you are either just starting your post-graduation job or in-between job, you’re still in school and working something that barely pays, or last but not least the global pandemic has smacked you with a red shell like Mario Kart making all of your coins fall out. Either way, you are not currently in a place to spend money on gifts which is okay.  If your family judges you due to you not buying them a candle or some terrible tie your father will never wear, then you have more problems going on than you realize. 

My suggestion is if you want to give your family something for the holidays take it back to your roots, and by that I mean homemade childhood gifts. Now before you say you don’t have the supplies to make a “vase” that’s so misshapen your grandmother will use it as an ashtray, I’m thinking more something like a photo collage or even a family photo you can get a frame for. If it’s a picture that has sentimental value to you it will work just as well for your family.  Trust me, I have been famous for going to Michaels crafts on December 24th during my first few years of college.  

Stop putting this much pressure on yourself for the holidays.  They’re meant to be the time to be around your family and enjoy each other’s company; the gifts really don’t mean anything in the long run. Things eventually break or get thrown away, but the memories you make are what is priceless.  

Now at this point if none of this advice is working for you, there is the 3v3 rule (see, I always bring things full circle). The 3v3 rule is my ultimate ace in the hole move for anything I never want to do, and it’s basically drinking 3 drinks and matching it with another 3 within 2 hours. It is simple in theory but after having 6 drinks in 2 hours you’re either buzzed enough to feel social or close enough to a blackout your family becomes completely irrelevant cause your trying to not pass out.  

So, best of luck, my friend.  And remember, the holidays come every year so next year book a vacation to avoid this mess. 



Zooming Through the End of the World

Photo: Yahoo

Back in March, when the University of Baltimore decided to transition from in-person to remote learning, I was optimistic. As someone who’s spent most of their teens and early-twenties glued to a computer screen, I didn’t think Zoom would be so bad. I thought it might even be a bit freeing, not having to get ready for school and drive to campus every day. UB’s decision came over spring break, and I think many of my MFA cohort members saw it a bit like an extended reprieve from campus. Most of us are introverts anyway. How bad could it be, really?

Fast forward seven months—I’ve been doing remote learning for three semesters now. I’ve been mostly out of work since March, but oddly enough I still feel like a bartender, thanks to Zoom. Every day I spend on it feels like I’m being held captive by some drunk at the bar who won’t stop talking. It forces me to nod and smile and make nice and hope that, at some point, I can slip away to the bathroom unnoticed. Zoom fatigue has settled in, and it’s not going away any time soon.

Some professors have been quite gracious about remote learning. They understand that these are unprecedented times. And yes, I did just say “unprecedented,” because like Zoom that damn phrase is also inescapable. They build breaks into class sessions, they don’t scold you for turning your camera off in case you don’t want to force others to watch you eat or be forced to have others watch you eat, they get it when you need to get up and attend to an animal or a child or a roommate, and I lump them all together because unless they get Zoom, they will interrupt you whenever they need something. 

Other professors, like one I had at the beginning of the state lockdown, are trying quite hard to pretend that we aren’t in the midst of a pandemic, that democracy isn’t collapsing around us, and that the world isn’t literally on fire (okay, WORLD may be a bit of an exaggeration, but you get it). They want your face in class and your full attention, regardless of what’s going on in or outside the walls of your dwelling. And that intensifies my apprehension of Zoom. It invites a distinct, new stressor into the one place that’s supposed to be safe from that—home. 

Allyson Waldon, a student in the MFA program, also wonders about other ramifications of Zoom learning. “We have already considered what too much screen time does to kinds’ brains, but what about adults?” Seriously though, what about us? Is it any surprise that no one wants to be on a Zoom session from 5:30-8:00pm, two, three, or more nights a week? Many students have turned to drinking during class to just get through the sessions (myself included). We just don’t have the emotional bandwidth.

“I’m tired of classes not being adapted to this eternal digital hellscape and also being forced to remain mostly on camera for two consecutive hours,” says Sierra Farrare, another MFA student. I hear her. I’m so tired of so much. And I’m tired of people who aren’t in college asking me “How’s school going?” What should I say? “It’s going great! I love staring into a screen for hours on end, several days a week, watching my cohort members watch me back while we all attempt astral projection to escape this hell that is our reality.” Look, if this all sounds a bit abrasive, I’m not sorry. I’m freaking exhausted. I’m Zoom fatigued, and so are my classmates.

Tatiana Huang is a staff writer for The Sting

Review: The Struts- Strange Days

Photo: Amazon

Back in August, I had a chance to go to an in-person, drive-in concert up in Philadelphia, which I wrote about in a previous Friday Groove article. British rock outfit The Struts were the main act.

In addition to the usual songs, the band played new material they had written while quarantined together during the first couple months of the pandemic. Frontman Luke Spiller told the audience that “something big would be coming soon. A few weeks later, the band announced their third studio album, Strange Days. Within the next couple weeks they released the first singles from the record, “Another Hit of Showmanship” and “Strange Days.” 

The LP finally dropped today. In a year that hasn’t had me very excited about new music, The Struts have been a big part of an autumn that is finally providing some reprieve to the lack of good, new music.

Recorded over the course of 10 days in quarantine, Strange Days manages to capture a new sense of intimacy not seen in their previous work. The opening (title) track “Strange Days”, which features Robbie Williams, evokes the feelings most of us have felt while being stuck in lockdown. The words “science fiction I believe, has become reality” hits way too close to home, but that isn’t a bad thing. Every songwriter strives to tap into such delicate emotions, many to no avail.

But even with undertones of the pandemic and lockdowns, The Struts still manage to rock. Tracks like “All Dressed Up” and “Cool” emit the classic Struts sound that fans have grown to love. Robust guitars paired with powerful vocals still make this record feel familiar. On this effort, The Struts enlisted other musicians to make this record really pop.

“I Hate How Much I Want You” features Def Leppard’s Phil Collen and Joe Elliot. I’m not much of a Def Leppard fan, but their presence on the track definitely enhances it. Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello appears on “Wild Child,” playing guitar the way only he can. Morello has collaborated with several artists over the years, including Bruce Springsteen. This collaboration feels right. The Strokes’ Albert Hammond Jr. appears on the single “Another Hit of Showmanship.”

Perhaps my favorite track is “Am I Talking to the Champagne,” the final track on the album. “Champagne” goes for a different sound, one that’s a little bluesier, bordering on a sound similar to the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls record. The bass line on this track really stands out, which isn’t necessarily the case on many of their other songs.

Overall this record was very enjoyable. Recording one song in quarantine is difficult enough, save for an entire album. Take it from someone who knows. I’m currently in the process of recording my second album in the midst of this pandemic, granted I probably have much less equipment at my disposal than these guys. 

Whatever The Struts had originally planned for a third album, I’m sure it was thwarted in part by the current state of affairs. But adapting to the situation and churning out a record as good as this one is certainly commendable, and I’m excited to see what they do next.

Tony Sheaffer is managing editor for The Sting and writes Friday Groove, a weekly music column.