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Election 2024 Government & Politics

AG Brown backs Trone over fellow Prince Georgian Alsobrooks

Attorney General Anthony Brown (D). Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

The political relationship between state Attorney General Anthony Brown (D) and U.S. Rep. David Trone (D-6th) runs deep.

They served side-by-side in Congress for four years, but it’s more than that.

Trone was a major donor to Brown’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign, hosting a high-dollar fundraiser for the then-lieutenant governor at his Potomac home, with former President Bill Clinton as the featured guest. Trone was again a donor and supporter in 2016, when Brown was seeking a political comeback and running for Congress.

Trone’s family and businesses have also been generous donors to Brown’s political campaigns. Trone and his wife funneled money to a political action committee that boosted Brown during his campaign for attorney general in 2022.

Brown returned the favor in 2018 by endorsing Trone in his run for Congress against prominent Democratic officeholders.

So it wasn’t altogether surprising that Brown endorsed Trone for U.S. Senate on Wednesday, cutting a TV commercial in which he testifies to Trone’s abilities, priorities and trustworthiness.

The ad features Brown, talking to the camera, interspersed with still photos of Trone on the campaign trail, and a picture of the ACLU’s Trone Center for Justice and Equity, which the congressman has endowed.

“At the end of the day, it’s who you trust,” Brown says at the top of the commercial. “Not just here,” he says, pointing to his head, “but here,” he adds, touching his heart.

“I know David Trone. I’ve been in the trenches with him sticking up for fairness and standing up for everyday people. And I will go to battle with him anywhere and anytime. He will protect right to choose, he will level the playing field because he believes everyone deserves an equal shot. And he will always be there on the frontlines of justice. You can trust in that. Why? Because I trust in him.”

For Trone’s principal opponent in the May 14 Democratic Senate primary, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, the endorsement has got to sting.

Endorsements from fellow politicians only carry so much weight in any election. Alsobrooks and Trone have each rolled out several dozen over the course of the campaign — big and consequential names, in many cases.

This one stands out because Brown and Alsobrooks are longtime political allies with durable careers in Prince George’s politics who share a political base, careers as lawyers and myriad friends and associates. Brown has spoken at Alsobrooks’ campaign events over the years, and his wife, Karmen Brown, is a friend of Alsobrooks who has been part of her 1,000 Women for Alsobrooks fundraising lunches in years past.

At an Alsobrooks rally in Greenbelt Wednesday evening, the candidate and several of her key supporters said they were “disappointed” by Brown’s endorsement of Trone.

“I was disappointed. I have supported the attorney general many, many times and proudly did so,” Alsobrooks said in an interview. “I’m going to be focused on continuing to grow our coalition as I have done by making sure that we are also continuing to connect with voters…and staying focused on the work. That’s what’s most important.”

A top Alsobrooks adviser, Yvette Lewis, who is the former chair of the Maryland Democratic Party, said she wasn’t surprised by the Brown endorsement.

“It’s disappointing,” she said. “I don’t criticize that decision because [the attorney general] has to do what’s best for him. I personally would stick with those that brought me to the dance and acknowledge that with some loyalty, but everybody’s different.”

At least a dozen elected officials from Prince George’s County stood alongside Alsobrooks at the American Legion Greenbelt Post 136 and encouraged those at the rally to talk with voters about supporting the county executive.

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D) greets a supporter on April 10, 2024, at a rally at the American Legion Greenbelt Post 136. Photo by William J. Ford.

“She has led us in an amazing way in Prince George’s County,” said state Senate President Pro Tem Malcolm Augustine (D-Prince George’s). “The beautiful thing about that is that she can bring that leadership to the United States Senate. She knows us. She understands us.”

One of Alsobrooks’ biggest supporters, U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-5th), asked the audience how many women are in the state’s congressional delegation.

“Zero,” he said while making the gesture of that number. “It is a void in the Maryland delegation when we sit around talking about policy there is not a woman’s perspective and experience in the room.”

The congressman did not mention Trone by name, but referenced his frequent TV ads.

“You’ve been [watching] a lot of TV by a guy whose got a lot of money,” Hoyer said. “All of you probably think we need another white, rich man in the Senate.”

Some people shook their heads from side-to-side and a few responded, “We good.”

A major donor

Through the years, Brown’s campaigns have been a major beneficiary of Trone’s largesse. Trone is the co-owner of Total Wine & More, a wildly successful national liquor store chain.

According to a 2018 Washington Post article, Trone, his family or businesses contributed $20,000 to Brown’s campaign committee in 2011 as he was gearing up to run for governor in 2014, $4,000 in 2013, and $132,000 in 2014. In one day alone, almost 20 of Trone’s stores across three states gave Brown a collective $92,000.

Those donations drew the scrutiny of the state prosecutor’s office, which in 2016, determined that Trone’s companies had exceeded the state’s campaign contributions with their donations to Brown and other candidates, including then-Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), who regulated the liquor industry. While admitting no wrongdoing, Trone paid a $60,000 settlement to the state and also agreed to place $90,000 in the state’s public financing fund for gubernatorial candidates.

Trone also hosted Brown’s most successful fundraising event of the campaign, with Bill Clinton as the star attraction. That event, as Brown was battling Republican Larry Hogan for the governorship, yielded almost $1 million.

When Brown lost to Hogan, Trone helped fund his political comeback.

Shortly after Brown announced he’d run for the open 4th District congressional seat, Trone wrote his congressional campaign a $2,700 check, Federal Election Commission records show. So did Trone’s wife, brother and sister-in-law. Records at the Maryland State Board of Elections show that Trone and his family members gave Brown’s state campaign committee at least $48,300 between 2017 and 2022.

Trone and his wife together gave $350,000 in 2022 to VoteVetsPAC, a political action committee that supports military veterans running for office as Democrats. Weeks later, the PAC launched a $400,000 ad campaign against Brown’s opponent in the Democratic primary for attorney general that year, retired Judge Katie Curran O’Malley.

Well before he launched a political career of his own, Trone was a regular political donor. His donations to congressional colleagues and campaign committees grew exponentially during his time in the House of Representatives.

Brown’s endorsement of Trone means the roster of statewide elected officials is split in the Senate primary. Alsobrooks has the backing of Gov. Wes Moore (D), Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller (D) and Comptroller Brooke Lierman (D). In the state’s congressional delegation, Alsobrooks has been endorsed by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) and Reps. John Sarbanes (D-3rd), Glenn Ivey (D-4th), Steny Hoyer (D-5th), Kweisi Mfume (D-7th) and Jamie Raskin (D-8th), while Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-2nd) is behind Trone.

The man that Trone and Alsobrooks are seeking to replace, Sen. Ben Cardin (D), has remained neutral in the May 14 primary so far and has said he would only step in if he feels the race is getting too divisive.

When political candidates pick up endorsements, their responses in written statements often sound canned. That was not the case after Brown endorsed Trone Wednesday.

“I can’t thank Anthony enough for standing by my side,” the congressman said. “His support means the world to me.”

Disclosure: The David and June Trone Family Foundation was a financial supporter of Maryland Matters in 2017 and 2018.


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AG Brown backs Trone over fellow Prince Georgian Alsobrooks