David Trone Demands Retraction of Free Beacon Report in the Midst of Hotly Contested Primary

Spoiler Alert: The Free Beacon is not retracting its report.

David Trone (cropped, Maryland GovPics/Wikimedia Commons)
May 9, 2024

In the midst of a hotly contested Senate campaign, Rep. David Trone (D., Md.) is demanding the retraction of a Washington Free Beacon report on gaps in the congressman's financial disclosures dating back to 2016.

The Free Beacon report identified over a dozen examples of Trone's failures to disclose an ownership stake in affiliates of Total Wine, the $2.4 billion liquor chain that Trone founded with his brother.

That business is the source of the tens of millions of dollars Trone is using to fuel his Senate bid—he has spent more than $61 million of his own money on the race so far. Trone has also described his vast personal wealth as a strength, touting his generous contributions to other Democratic candidates. The liquor magnate has also donated to Republicans, telling the Washington Post in 2016, "I sign my checks to buy access." He later said he was misquoted.

Trone, who is set to face off against Prince George's County executive Angela Alsobrooks in Tuesday's Democratic primary, has faced blowback for saying in a recent interview that the Senate is "not for someone on training wheels," referring to Alsobrooks. His campaign removed that language from an ad in the face of mounting criticism.

Trone's May 1 demand that the Free Beacon retract the piece is an indicator of his hostility to the press. The Maryland Democrat berated a local reporter on Tuesday for publishing a story on his recent social media posts highlighting the "hard truth" that the "criminal justice system is systemically racist." Trone put his finger in the face of the reporter, accusing the man of being a Republican "shill," footage of the tense exchange shows.

Trone's demand also highlights a paradox at the heart of his bid. The congressman has taken pains to publicly distance himself from his Total Wine empire, providing minimal insight on his financial disclosures and claiming that he no longer has any "operational responsibility" in the business. At the same time, he has used the proceeds to bankroll his Senate bid and arguing that self-funded candidates are best because they cannot be bought.

While Trone and his high-priced lawyers do not dispute that Trone did not disclose his interest in numerous Total Wine affiliates, they nonetheless describe the report as "false" and allege that the congressman did not have to disclose his ownership stake in Total Wine affiliates because it was worthless to him.

Those entities include California Fine Wines & Spirits, a Total Wine affiliate that operates at least 39 stores in the state. Trone reported in his 2020 disclosure that his stake in the company was worth $0. The same company also delivered him over $5 million in "unearned" revenue in 2020.

The Trone campaign declined to say whether Total Wine has received independent financial audits showing its various affiliates are indeed worthless, as Trone reported in his financial disclosures.

Trone has received as much as $263 million in revenue from Total Wine since he was elected to the House in 2018, according to his congressional financial disclosures. He has poured more than $100 million into his political campaigns since 2016, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Trone attributes his political success in part to his personal fortune. The three-term congressman boasted during an April debate that he's an effective lawmaker because he's not beholden to campaign donors but is in fact a donor himself.

"I'm the largest donor to Democrats in the last three cycles," Trone said at the debate. "I drive our Democratic Party. Not only in the House but also in the Senate. And that's why I'm so effective, 'cause I've got all those connections in the Senate."

Trone's strategy has some merits. He has contributed to the campaigns of more than 50 elected officials who have endorsed his primary campaign against Alsobrooks, the Baltimore Sun reported.

But Trone's personal cash-blitz hasn't translated to the polls. Though the congressman leads Alsobrooks by 44 percent to 31 percent in the latest 538 polling average, a significant portion of Maryland Democrats remain undecided ahead of the May 14 primary, giving Alsobrooks a path to victory.