David Trone, a candidate for Maryland's 8th Congressional District, has taken up a popular argument in this year's election season — that special interests have too much influence over politicians.
The Democrat often singles out lobbyists and reminds voters he is not taking money for his campaign from "PACs, lobbyists or corporations" because "special interests who fund campaigns push politicians to take extreme positions."
But Trone, the owner of a successful wine retailer, Total Wine & More, has spent more than $1.4 million lobbying state governments since 2011, according to a review of lobbying records in nearly a dozen states.
Trone, a Montgomery County resident, spent more than $274,000 in Maryland during that time. At least some of the nationwide effort was targeted at privatizing liquor sales in states like Virginia and Pennsylvania that have a monopoly on the alcohol business within their borders.
Trone is running a mostly self-funded campaign for the House district currently held by Rep. Chris Van Hollen.
A campaign spokeswoman said the company has used its lobbying to push for "pro-consumer" policies, adding that alcohol retailers are "at the mercy of state laws and regulations, many of which are anti-consumer laws passed after Prohibition nearly a century ago."
Trone started the Bethesda-based company with his brother Robert in 1991.
"David and Robert Trone are not and have never been lobbyists in any state, and their business efforts to push for pro-consumer laws are exclusive to the state level," the spokeswoman, Mary Werden, said in a statement. "Total Wine also does not lobby for carve-outs in the tax code or other things people associate with lobbying."
As he pursues the 8th District seat, Trone has been actively involved in fighting a proposal in Tennessee to limit the number of liquor stores an individual may operate. Trone's company has also fought to privatize liquor sales in states where the government controls the business. The company has argued that the stance is pro-consumer because it would increase competition.
And Trone says he "has helped pass more legislation than many members of Congress."
The 8th District is deeply Democratic, and the candidates seeking the nomination, including Trone, have worked hard to stake out liberal positions on campaign finance reform and lobbying.
Another high-profile candidate for the seat, former WJLA anchor Kathleen Matthews, has faced criticism from a super PAC for her role leading the government and public affairs team at Marriott International. The group, Mayday PAC, suggested the Bethesda-based hotelier benefited from federal money to promote U.S. tourism.
Other candidates seeking the Democratic nomination include state Sen. Jamie Raskin, Dels. Kumar Barve and Ana Sol-Gutierrez, former Obama administration officials William Jawando and Joel Rubin, David M. Anderson of Potomac and Dan Bolling of Bethesda.