Ellicott City, MD: A packed crowd gathered recently at Kelsey’s Restaurant in Ellicott City to officially launch “Yes on A! For the Citizens Election Fund.” The campaign is building support for ballot question A, which would establish a Citizens’ Election Fund to create a small donor empowerment program for Howard County elections.
In a small donor system, candidates for County Council or County Executive who turn down large contributions and contributions from special interests can receive limited matching funds for small contributions from county residents. Candidates must qualify to participate in the program by showing strong support from citizens.
In April, Councilmembers Jon Weinstein and Jen Terrasa sponsored the resolution to add “Citizen Funded Campaigns” to the Howard County charter. The resolution is necessary to authorize the council to fund the program. Howard County voters will need to approve the resolution at the ballot in November. If the charter amendment is approved by voters, the Council can move forward in establishing a small donor program for local races. Under their current proposal and as recommended by the coalition, an independent commission would make funding recommendations to the County Executive and County Council for annual funding appropriations to ensure the program is fully functional for all qualifying candidates in the 2022 election cycle.
In 2014, Montgomery County became the first community in Maryland to create a small donor incentive program for local elections. These programs amplify voters’ voices in a political process too often dominated by wealthy contributors. Congressman John Sarbanes, who represents much of Howard County, has introduced the Government by the People Act to establish a similar program for congressional races. Congressman Sarbanes spoke at the kickoff, as did Senator Ben Cardin, who is a cosponsor of the Senate version of the bill, the Fair Elections Now Act.
The Fair Elections Howard Coalition includes Common Cause Maryland, Progressive Maryland, Maryland PIRG, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Every Voice, and the Democracy Initiative. The groups formed a ballot committee, Yes! On Citizens Election Fund, to engage county residents in support of the effort.
“In our democracy, the depth of your pocket should not dictate the volume of your voice,” said Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr. “By voting yes on A, Howard County voters can stand up to the corporations and mega donors who dominate our political process and put democracy back in the hands of everyday Marylanders.”
“These fair elections programs strengthen our democracy by keeping special interests out of elections and putting voters back in charge,” said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, Executive Director of Common Cause Maryland. “We commend the Council for their favorable vote on Resolution 27-2016, which is a critical investment in elections in Howard County. We are excited to hear from the voters on this exciting program in November.”
“The Citizen’s Election Fund will go a long way to expanding the opportunity for all people to run for office without relying on special interest money,” said Progressive Maryland Executive Director Larry Stafford. “People of all backgrounds should be able to run for office on the strength of their ideas, not access to money.”
“At the heart of the fair elections movement is the desire to reclaim our democracy and have elected officials who are both accessible and accountable,” explained Karla Raettig, the Executive Director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters. “We can’t make progress on the pressing environmental issues of our time without a level playing field for candidates who share those values.”