Anti-Monopoly Group Blasts Wealthy Maryland Democrat In New Digital Ad

Fight Corporate Monopolies is hitting Rep. David Trone, a Senate candidate, and advertising in support of Rep. Mary Peltola (D-Alaska).
Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) has drawn the ire of anti-monopolists for his ownership of Total Wine & More, an alcohol retailer that has expanded by steamrolling local businesses.
Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) has drawn the ire of anti-monopolists for his ownership of Total Wine & More, an alcohol retailer that has expanded by steamrolling local businesses.
Bill Clark/Getty Images

In its first two advertisements of the 2024 election cycle, the progressive antitrust group Fight Corporate Monopolies is attacking Rep. David Trone, a leading Democratic Senate candidate in Maryland, and praising Rep. Mary Peltola, a centrist Democrat facing a tough reelection fight in Alaska.

The 30-second digital spot blasting Trone, due out Friday, focuses on the suburban Maryland congressman’s record as a co-founder and co-owner of Total Wine & More, the country’s largest alcohol retailer, which antitrust advocates accuse of acting monopolistically to shut out smaller competitors. The ad notes that the Federal Trade Commission sued Total Wine in October to force it to turn over documents that it was withholding for an investigation into whether an alcohol distributor was giving Total Wine illegal discounts.

Fight Corporate Monopolies’ spot also describes a 2021 incident where Trone allegedly threatened to “execute” and “fucking end” a delivery worker. Trone, who has been a member of Congress since 2019, was visiting a Total Wine location in Arizona at the time, and was dismayed that the worker had stacked merchandise on the floor. The worker called the police on Trone. (Co-workers who were present confirmed that Trone yelled at the worker inappropriately but denied hearing Trone physically threaten the worker.)

“Maryland, we don’t need another billionaire bully,” the ad’s narrator concludes, as an image of Trone appears alongside one of former President Donald Trump. “Let’s fix our democracy.”

It’s not clear whether Trone is actually a billionaire, because an accurate estimate of his wealth is not currently available. But the Bloomberg Billionaires Index valued Total Wine at more than $2 billion.

Trone’s campaign responded to the ad by noting that as a 501(c)4 political education nonprofit, Fight Corporate Monopolies is a dark-money group that does not have to disclose donors.

“David Trone is the only candidate for the United States Senate in Maryland who wants to ban PAC and lobbyist contributions from campaigns,” the campaign said in a statement. “We aren’t surprised to see a PAC that doesn’t clearly disclose all of its donors attack David with lies.”

The campaign also maintains that Trone never threatened to “execute” the delivery worker.

“David never made the statement this organization is alleging and he won’t back down from fighting to end the PAC, special interest and lobbyist money poisoning our democracy, and if elected he would be the only member of the Senate to refuse contributions from all PACs, lobbyists and special interest groups,” the campaign said.

At a time when President Joe Biden’s regulators are pursuing the most aggressive effort in decades to rein in monopoly power, the ad highlights the growing salience of the issue in Democratic primary elections.

Long before Trone attracted the attention of the FTC, Total Wine had elicited criticism from anti-monopolists for using its market power to wipe out local liquor businesses. In order to achieve national domination, the company has also fought to undermine state governments’ freedom to regulate their local liquor industries for public-health or anti-monopoly reasons.

The company scored a particularly far-reaching win in 2019 on this front, when it got the Supreme Court to strike down Tennessee’s residency requirement for liquor store owners.

“He’s a monopolist by trade. It’s in his DNA.”

- Faiz Shakir, Fight Corporate Monopolies

“If you look at how David Trone has built up Total Wine, he’s a monopolist by trade,” said Faiz Shakir, a board member of Fight Corporate Monopolies. “It’s in his DNA.”

The Trone campaign did not respond to questions about Trone’s views on antitrust policy.

Fight Corporate Monopolies’ initial ad buy is in the high five digits ― less than $100,000. The group is targeting 500,000 high-propensity Democratic primary voters, among whom Black women are disproportionately represented.

Still, that sum is unlikely to make a difference in Trone’s May 14 Democratic Senate primary contest against Angela Alsobrooks, the executive of Prince George’s County, Maryland.

Trone has lent his campaign $41.7 million, providing him a massive spending advantage over Alsobrooks that appears to be moving the needle with voters. Trone led Alsobrooks 48% to 29% in a Baltimore Sun poll earlier this month.

Nonetheless, Alsobrooks, who would be Maryland’s first Black U.S. senator, has been endorsed by Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D), Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), former House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and the Washington Post editorial board. And Trone is under fire for using an obscure anti-Black racial slur that he apologized for and said was accidental.

Either candidate would likely have a general-election fight on their hands against former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, the prohibitive favorite to lock up the GOP Senate nomination.

Fight Corporate Monopolies is not endorsing Alsobrooks, whose views on antitrust policy remain largely unknown, but Shakir said she is a superior choice because she is “able to be convinced and persuaded around economic justice.”

Rep. Mary Peltola (D-Alaska) earned Fight Corporate Monopolies' support with her outspoken opposition to the Kroger-Albertsons supermarket merger.
Rep. Mary Peltola (D-Alaska) earned Fight Corporate Monopolies' support with her outspoken opposition to the Kroger-Albertsons supermarket merger.
Tom Williams/Getty Images

Shakir also acknowledged that simply raising the issue of monopolies in the primary was part of the group’s calculation.

“The first thing we do is we look at a primary and say, ‘Hey, is there a way to insert our issues into this race such that voters should pay attention to them, care about them, think on them, and vote on them?’” he said. “And in this one, I do think we’ve got a shot.”

In Alaska, Fight Corporate Monopolies’ support for Peltola could have a more significant electoral impact. Peltola, a moderate voted into Congress in an August 2022 special election, is facing a rematch against Republican businessman Nick Begich, the scion of an Alaskan political dynasty.

Peltola tied Begich at 50% in a Data for Progress poll in March that assumed a four-person field and accounted for the state’s elimination-based, ranked-choice voting system.

Fight Corporate Monopolies is putting high five figures behind its one-minute digital ad for Peltola, targeting voters in rural areas where she has room for improvement.

The digital spot highlights Peltola’s outspoken opposition to the Kroger-Albertsons supermarket merger, crediting her appeals to the FTC for the agency suing to block the deal. Peltola, the FTC and other critics of the potential merger believe that it would deprive consumers of choice and drive up prices in areas where Kroger and Albertsons stores currently compete.

“Mary Peltola is fighting for everyday Alaskans by taking a strong stand against corporate exploitation,” the ad’s narrator concludes.

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