Fair Election Fund Charter Amendment Passes

Media Contacts
Emily Scarr

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

Now it’s up to City Council and Mayor to finalize small donor public financing program

Baltimore, MD – On Tuesday, Baltimore City voters approved an amendment to the city charter to create the Fair Election Fund and Commission. Proponents of the measure say it will bring balance to our democracy and make city government more representative and accountable to everyday people.

At 11pm, Question H had 76% of the vote in Baltimore City, with 272 of 296 precincts reporting. The win lays the groundwork for a small donor public financing program for city council, city comptroller, and mayoral races. The new program will provide limited matching funds for small donor contributions to qualifying candidates who don’t accept large or corporate contributions. 

“The Fair Election Fund will create more balance in Baltimore’s democracy, shifting who holds power in our elections” said Kobi Little, President of the Baltimore City Branch of the NAACP “Candidates should be able to run for office on the strength of their ideas, not access to money.” 

According to a new report from Demos on spending on Baltimore City campaigns for Mayor and City Council, campaign contributions do not currently reflect the cities racial and socioeconomic diversity. 

  • Half of all families in Baltimore make $44,000 or less per year, yet more than 80% of donors make more than that. Nearly half—48%—of donations came from households making more than $100,000.
  • While 32% of Baltimore residents are white and 63% are black, the donor pool in Baltimore is the opposite—64% white and 32% black. 
  • Together, Latinx, Asian Americans, and Native Americans make up about 7% of Baltimoreans, but among donors, they make up only 1%, 1%, and .03% of donors, respectively. 

Proponents say the Fair Elections Fund will increase the diversity of Baltimore’s donors, make elections more inclusive and accessible, and help ensure city government is more responsive to all Baltimoreans.

“Everyone should have equal opportunity to influence elections, and today Baltimore is one step closer to making that vision a reality,” said Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr. “By passing Question H, Baltimore City voters have sent a clear message that big money politics is coming to and end.”

The Fair Election Fund Charter Amendment was put on the ballot with unanimous support from the City Council and Mayor Catherine Pugh. Councilman Kristerfer Burnett (District 8) authored the resolution and is expected to introduce implementation policy as well.

“Today, the citizens of Baltimore City took a bold step towards building a stronger democracy,” said Councilman Kristerfer Burnett, “I’m thankful for their vote to create the Fair Election Fund and I look forward to working on next steps to bring it to fruition.”

As the coalition turns their attention to passing a final program through City Council to implement the program they say they hope the City Council will move quickly to introduce legislation, and use similar programs throughout the state as a model. 

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

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The campaign in support of Question H has been endorsed by local, state and national organizations including the Baltimore League of Women Voters, Baltimore Women United, CCAN Action Fund,  Clean Water Action, Common Cause Maryland, Communication Workers of America, Communities United, Democracy Initiative, Food and Water Action Fund, Greater Baltimore Sierra Club, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Maryland Working Families, Maryland PIRG, NAACP, Progressive Maryland, Represent Maryland.