NEW REPORT: Maryland’s public campaign financing programs encourage, empower small donors

Media Contacts

BALTIMORE — A report released Tuesday by Maryland PIRG Foundation finds that small donor public financing programs in Montgomery and Howard Counties are working as intended in local elections, encouraging more people to contribute to candidates and reducing the role of large donors. 

In 2022, Montgomery County and Howard County candidates who qualified for the program received 186% more contributions from individuals than candidates who did not participate in the program (698 vs 244). To qualify, candidates have to file a notice of intent to make use of the fund, establish a new campaign account and meet a few conditions.

“It’s incredible to see the small donor program in action. County by county, Maryland is building a democracy where everyone has an opportunity to participate regardless of their access to wealth,” explained Maryland PIRG Foundation Director Emily Scarr. “The data shows that small donor public financing is an effective option to reduce the role of moneyed special interests in our elections and empower small donors. We are thrilled to see more cities and counties jumping on board.”

The report analyzes fundraising data from the Maryland Campaign Reporting Information System (MDCRIS) for the 2022 county elections. It looks at data from 63 candidates for county office in Howard and Montgomery Counties, 32 of whom participated in the program and 24 who qualified to receive matching funds. 

The data revealed that the small donor matching program is reducing the influence of big money and enabling people to run for office based on support from the community instead of large donors.

Key findings:

  • Small donors accounted for a significantly larger portion of the fundraising for candidates in the program. Candidates who qualified for the matching program raised 96% of their money in small contributions and matching funds compared to 3% for candidates who did not participate.
  • The average donation was dramatically smaller for qualifying candidates. Candidates qualifying for the program received an average contribution of $124 compared to $2,137 for non-participating candidates.
  • In County Council races in both counties, the average total contribution for qualifying candidates was $335 compared to $498 for non-participating candidates. Since participating candidates gained support from more individual donors, qualifying candidates in these races raised more money in total and on average than non-participating candidates.

Baltimore City is rolling out its small donor program for the first time for the 2024 elections for Mayor, Comptroller, City Council President, and City Councilmembers. Candidates are beginning to opt into the program and qualify for matching funds.