I’ve been so proud to work with community members, local and national legislators, and likeminded organizations – who have made Maryland a leader in the fight to get big money out of our elections. On Monday, Councilman Burnett took a huge step to strengthen Baltimore’s democracy with a charter amendment and companion proposal to bring citizen funded elections to Baltimore City. Burnett introduced the Charter Amendment with 8 additional cosponsors – more than half of the Baltimore City Council. If passed by the Council, Baltimore voters will vote to authorize “Fair Election Fund” through a Charter Amendment on November’s ballot.
Under the proposal, an independent commission would make funding recommendations to the Mayor and County Council for funding options to ensure the program is fully functional for all qualifying candidates in the 2024 election cycle.
In Baltimore, large campaign contributions, which few of us can afford to make, have undue influence over who can run for office, what issues make it on the agenda, and who wins elections. In our democracy, the amount of money your family makes, your race, your gender should not determine the volume of your voice. By supporting a small donor incentive program, Baltimore voters can stand up to the corporations and mega donors who dominate our electoral process.
The Baltimore Fair Elections program will enable candidates to voluntarily reject large and corporate contributions by providing limited matching funds for small donations from city residents. This serves the dual purpose of reducing corporate and mega donor campaign spending and re-engaging the community in the electoral process. It will also expand opportunities to run for office and help rebuild faith in our elections and government.
Montgomery County passed a small donor incentive program in 2014 which is in effect for the 2018, and early evidence shows it is working. Howard County passed their own program after voters authorized it at the ballot in 2016, D.C. finalized their program in early 2018, and Prince George’s County is currently considering similar legislation.
- Candidates who are participating in the matching program and have received money from the matching fund received 92 percent more contributions from individuals on average than non-participating candidates, that’s nearly twice as many individual donations.
- Small donations accounted for 94 percent of total fundraising dollars raised by candidates receiving matching funds, versus only 8 percent for those not participating in the program.
This program will not solve every problem with our elections, but it is a meaningful and important step we can take now.
Here are some of the details of our program reccomendations for Baltimore City:
- Participating candidates may only accept donations of $150 or less from individuals.
- Participating candidates cannot accept any contributions from corporations, unions, PACs, or other political campaign committees or parties.
- Only donations from City residents will count towards qualifying or be matched.
- The match is tiered with smaller donations receiving a higher match to encourage small donations.
- Matching funds are capped. Once a candidate reaches the cap they can continue to raise donations from individuals of $150 or less but will not receive a match.
- A Citizen’s Commission will recommend the adequate funding level for the Mayor to include in the annual budget.
Our estimates project the program will cost less than 2 million a year. This is less than .1% of the City’s $2.8 billion dollar budget and a critical investment in our democracy. The program will create a system where every Baltimorean, regardless of wealth will have equal opportunity to influence the actions of our government and candidates for office will be able to run on the strength of their ideas not access to money.
Our democracy is in a fragile state, and the vast majority of Americans agree money in politics is a problem. Baltimore City has a great opportunity to start building a democracy that works for everyday people, not just the wealthy and corporate interests. I am so optimistic that we can lead the state and country to better way to fund elections and I look forward to working with the Baltimore City Councilmembers, the Mayor, and Baltimore voters to bring Fair Elections home to Baltimore.
State Director, Maryland PIRG; Director, Stop Toxic PFAS Campaign, PIRG
Emily directs strategy, organizational development, research, communications and legislative advocacy for Maryland PIRG. Emily has helped win small donor public financing in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Howard County, Montgomery County, and Prince George's County. She has played a key role in establishing new state laws to to protect public health by restricting the use of antibiotics on Maryland farms, require testing for lead in school drinking water and restrict the use of toxic flame retardant and PFAS chemicals. Emily also serves on the Executive Committees of the Maryland Fair Elections Coalition and the Maryland Campaign to Keep Antibiotics Working. Emily lives in Baltimore City with her husband, kids, and dog.