Baltimore Fair Elections Program Moves to Full Council Vote

Media Contacts
Emily Scarr

State Director, Maryland PIRG; Director, Stop Toxic PFAS Campaign, PIRG

City moves closer to finalizing small donor campaign finance reform

Maryland PIRG

Baltimore – This evening, the Baltimore City Council voted unanimously to pass Council Bill 19-0403 to establish the Baltimore City Fair Elections program.  In 2018, Baltimore City voted 3 to 1 to approve an Amendment to the City Constitution, Question H, to authorize the Fund and direct the City Council to finalize a program for small donor public financing for City elections.

Council Bill 19-0403, which was introduced by Councilman Kristerfer Burnett in June, lays out the details of how the program will be implemented.

Unless it is vetoed by Mayor Young, the new campaign finance system will be in effect for the 2024 election cycle. Candidates for City Council, Comptroller, and Mayor who turn down contributions over $150 and all contributions from corporations, unions and PACs, can receive limited matching funds for small contributions from City residents. The matching funds are tiered to incentive the smallest donations. Participating candidates must qualify by reaching thresholds for small donations raised to show viability and support from the community. 

Proponents of the program say it will bring balance to our democracy, serving as a counterweight to traditional campaign financing which depends on large and corporate donors. They say the program will increase small donor participation, make elections more inclusive and accessible, and help ensure city government is more responsive to all Baltimoreans.

Dozens of community members and organizations supporting the initiative showed up for today’s vote, including the Baltimore NAACP, League of Women Voters, Maryland PIRG, and Common Cause Maryland.

“By multiplying donations of $150 or less, the Fair Elections program will put small donors at the center of elections, ensuring that we all have equal opportunity to influence their outcome,” explained Rev. Kobi Little, Baltimore City NAACP President.

Councilman Burnett has signaled that he will introduce a companion bill to establish a funding source for the program.

“We hope the Mayor will sign this bill and to law and that the Council will move quickly to fund this program,” said Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr. “By joining Baltimore voters in support of Fair Elections, our City government can strike a double punch against big-money politics and ensure our local government is accountable to residents, not special interests.”

Baltimore City will join Montgomery County, Howard County, Prince George’s County, and Washington DC, who have all established similar programs. Congressman John Sarbanes, who represents parts of Baltimore City, has authored similar legislation for congressional races, The Government By the People Act.

“Democracy works best when we all participate, and these programs have a proven track record of increasing small donor participation, shifting candidate behavior, and enabling people to run for office based on support from their constituents instead of access to money,” said Common Cause Director Joanne Antoine.

Montgomery County used their small donor public financing program for the first time in 2018. A report from the Maryland PIRG Foundation found that the program worked as intended, and encouraged more small donors.

Candidates who qualified for the program received more than 96% more individual contributions than candidates who did not participate in the program. (850 vs 434)

Candidates qualifying for the program received an average contribution of $86 compared to $1,145 for non-participating candidates.

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The Baltimore Fair Elections campaign is supported by local, state and national organizations including the Baltimore League of Women Voters, Baltimore Sunrise Movement, Baltimore Women United,  Clean Water Action, Common Cause Maryland, Communication Workers of America, Communities United, Democracy Initiative, Food and Water Action Fund, Get Money Out Maryland, Greater Baltimore DSA, Greater Baltimore Sierra Club, Green Party – Baltimore, Jews United for Justice, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Maryland Working Families, Maryland PIRG, NAACP – Baltimore City Branch, Progressive Maryland, Represent Maryland, SEIU -32BJ