David Trone Says He Has No Involvement in Total Wine Empire Fueling His Senate Bid. Financial Disclosures Say Otherwise.

David Trone (House Budget Committee GOP/YouTube).
May 7, 2024

David Trone promised he would step away from his family’s $2.4 billion business empire after his 2018 election to Congress. Business records belie that claim, demonstrating that Trone has held on to key leadership titles in his Total Wine business while serving as a congressman. Now, the millions he's made from that business are funding his Senate campaign.

While Trone says he "relinquished all operational responsibility" over Total Wine when he became a member of Congress in 2019, a Washington Free Beacon review of business records and financial disclosures shows that he has maintained extensive involvement with his business empire since assuming office. As of 2022, the latest year for which financial disclosure filings are available, Trone has maintained his roles of director, president, secretary, treasurer, manager, co-manager, and co-president across eight Total Wine entities, including the chain’s parent company, Retail Services & Systems, Inc., which holds the brand’s trademark.

The Trone campaign refused to say if the congressman intends to relinquish his leadership roles with Total Wine if he wins his election for Maryland's open Senate seat.

"We will not be providing a response from our campaign to these questions," Trone spokesman Nathaniel Philp told the Free Beacon on Monday. 

Trone, the Democratic favorite to challenge former Gov. Larry Hogan (R.) for Maryland’s open Senate seat, reported that his positions with Total Wine are unpaid. But he’s also disclosed raking in as much as $263 million in "unearned income"—investment returns from his ownership stake in the various Total Wine entities—since 2018.

"David Trone's claim that he stepped down as CEO and president of Total Wine in 2015 gives a totally false picture of his substantial involvement in running his companies," said Paul Kamenar, an attorney with the National Legal and Policy Center watchdog group.

Still, Trone maintains that he has no involvement in Total Wine’s operations.

"Congressman Trone resigned as CEO of Total Wine & More in 2015, and he relinquished all operational responsibility when he became a member of Congress in early 2019," Philp told the Free Beacon on April 26.

Trone has poured more than $100 million of his personal fortune into his political campaigns, including a record-breaking $54.1 million into his primary campaign against Prince George’s county executive Angela Alsobrooks.

Trone touts his personal fortune as the source of his political success. The three-term congressman boasted during a debate against Alsobrooks in April that he’s an effective lawmaker because he’s not beholden to campaign donors—which for Trone are few and far between—but a donor himself.

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

And when Trone cut many of those campaign checks to his Democratic allies, he reported "Total Wine & More" as his place of employment to the Federal Election Commission, including on Jan. 31, when he contributed $100,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Trone’s leadership positions in Total Wine during his service in Congress appear to have necessitated his involvement in the chain’s operations as it has expanded across the country, public records show.

In 2021, for example, Trone submitted a signed and notarized questionnaire to the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control as part of Total Wine’s business license application for an expansion store in Goodyear, Arizona.

In the questionnaire, Trone identified himself as a "controlling person" and 5 percent owner of Arizona Fine Wine & Spirits, Total Wine’s affiliate in the state. Trone also identified his current employer as the "U.S. Government." His position: "Congressman." Place of business: "Longworth House Office Bldg" in Washington, D.C.

"I, David John Trone, hereby declare I am the Agent/Controlling person/Premises Manager filing this application," Trone wrote in the signed application, which he had notarized in Montgomery County, Maryland, on May 21, 2021. "I have read this document and verify the contents and all statements are true, correct and complete, to the best of my knowledge."

Trone has had one very public interaction with Total Wine's Arizona locations during his time in Congress. During a site visit to the chain’s Tempe location in December 2021, the congressman allegedly threatened to "execute" and "f—king end" a delivery worker, Cody Huard, for placing merchandise on the floor during business hours.

"Cody said the owner of the store, David Trone, began yelling and cursing at him because he was angry that merchandise was stacked on the floor," according to a police report of the incident obtained by The Spectator. "Cody said David threatened him, stating ‘I will f—king end you,’ ‘I will execute you,’ ‘you’re not on my payroll, I will end you right now.’"

Trone has received between $3.2 million and $17 million in "unearned" income from his 5 percent ownership in Total Wine’s Arizona affiliate since 2018, according to his congressional financial disclosures.

Trone’s work with Total Wine has not been limited to Arizona. The company had no presence in Indiana when he won his first term in the House in 2018. But that didn’t stop Trone from obtaining a 5 percent stake in Total Wine’s Indiana affiliate when it launched the business in 2019.

Indiana Fine Wine & Spirits lists Trone as a "member" in its liquor licenses with the state, and court documents show that Trone and his brother are the only two individuals with voting power over the entity. Trone is one of two liquor licensees for the chain’s Towson, Maryland, location as of 2023, Baltimore County records show.

Trone has also put his thumb on the scale politically for Total Wine during his service in Congress. In 2022, he contributed $1 million to a committee supporting a Colorado ballot initiative that would have enabled Total Wine to open an unlimited number of stores in the state. Total Wine’s affiliate in the state, Colorado Fine Wine & Spirits, chipped in an additional $11.5 million in support of the ballot initiative.

The Colorado ballot initiative failed, with 62 percent of voters voting against the proposal.

Total Wine’s Colorado affiliate has been a cash cow for Trone throughout his service in Congress. Trone disclosed he received between $3 million and $15 million in "unearned" income from the Colorado Fine Wine & Spirits from 2020 through 2022, an eye-opening return from a company that Trone said was worth $0 in his 2020 financial disclosure.

"Unfortunately it seems Congressman Trone is attempting to skirt scrutiny on his business dealings while using the wealth obtained there to essentially buy a United States Senate seat," said Thomas Anderson, the president of Last Government Watchdog.