STATEMENT: Democracy Groups Urge Vignarajah to Return Fair Election Funds

Baltimore City mayoral candidate Thiru Vignarajah publicly endorsed one of his opponents in the race on Wednesday.

Baltimore Fair Elections Campaign Launch
staff | TPIN
Maryland PIRG director Emily Scarr, alongside Baltimore City Councilmember Kristerfer Burnett, members of the Fair Elections Baltimore Coalition, and City Councilmembers launch a campaign for small donor public financing in Baltimore City.
Joanne Antoine

Executive Director, Common Cause Maryland

BALTIMORE – Baltimore City mayoral candidate Thiru Vignarajah publicly endorsed one of his opponents in the race on Wednesday. Mr. Vignarajah’s campaign used the City’s new small donor public financing program, which is available for the first time this election cycle.

The Fair Elections law says if a candidate withdraws from the program, they need to repay all the public funds plus interest. The Baltimore City Solicitor has not yet made public an opinion on the situation and it is unclear if Mr. Vignarajah consulted the Fair Elections Commission or City Solicitor before making his announcement.

In response Emily Scarr, Maryland PIRG Director and Joanne Antoine, Common Cause Maryland Executive Director issued the following statements:

“In 2018, Baltimore voters overwhelmingly supported a new way to fund elections and limit the influence of large, corporate and outsider dollars. When a candidate opts into the fair elections program to apply for matching funds, they agree to reject all large and corporate donations and commit to return the funds if they withdraw from the program. While we have yet to hear a legal opinion on the matter, we hope Mr. Vignarajah voluntarily returns every penny he received from the fair elections program,” said Scarr.

“Maryland’s small donor public financing programs have proven effective at the local and state level as a means of reducing the role of big money, increasing public participation, and expanding opportunities to run for office. A participating candidate endorsing an opponent is unprecedented in Maryland. In other jurisdictions candidates who have suspended their campaigns have abstained from endorsements, and we are disappointed Mr. Vignarajah did not do the same. He should return the money he received back to the program.” said Antoine.


Maryland PIRG is an advocate for the public interest. We speak out for a healthier, safer world in which we’re freer to pursue our own individual well-being and the common good.

Common Cause Maryland is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy – working to create open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest; promote equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and empower all people to make their voices heard in the political process. 

Maryland PIRG and Common Cause Maryland help lead the Fair Elections Maryland coalition, which works to bring the power of the people to Maryland’s elections. Since its founding, the Fair Elections Maryland coalition has worked with Montgomery County, Howard County, Prince George’s County, Baltimore City, and Baltimore County to establish local small donor campaign finance programs. 


Emily Scarr

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.

Joanne Antoine

Executive Director, Common Cause Maryland

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