GO Committee Recommends Funding for Public Campaign Finance System

philandrewshansriemerThe Montgomery County Council’s Government Operations and Fiscal Policy (GO) Committee today unanimously recommended that the full Council consider adding up to $2 million to begin funding a new Public Election Fund that will allow candidates for County Council and County Executive to qualify for partial public financing for their campaigns.

When the Council approved Bill 16-14 in September, it was the first measure of its type for County elective offices in the Washington Region and in the State of Maryland. The plan was to have partial funding added each year to the campaign fund to prepare for the next County election, which will be in 2018. However, County Executive Isiah Leggett, who signed the bill, did not include any money for the election fund in the Fiscal Year 2016 operating budget that he presented to the Council on March 16.

The Council is now reviewing all aspects of the recommended budget and is scheduled to approve the FY16 operating budget in late May. Today, the GO Committee, which is chaired by Nancy Navarro and includes Councilmembers Sidney Katz and Hans Riemer, in its review of the Public Election Fund, recommended that up to $2 million (in four increments of $500,000 each) be placed on the “reconciliation list” of items that the Council will consider for funding as part of its budget discussions.

“Public financing is proven to get people involved in elections who otherwise would not participate,” said Committee Chair Navarro. “With the dismal voter turnout in the 2014 gubernatorial election, it is critical that we do whatever we can to increase civic participation, voter turnout and fair elections.”

Since 2001, members of the Montgomery County Council have urged the Maryland General Assembly to provide the County with the authority to adopt campaign finance reforms. In 2013, the General Assembly enacted a bill that enables counties to provide for the option of public financing for county elective offices beginning with the 2015-18 election cycle. Participation by candidates would be voluntary.

“I think it is crucial that we make a down payment to the Public Financing Fund this year to prove that we are serious about making public financing work in Montgomery County and getting big money out of our politics,” said Councilmember Riemer.

Councilmember Katz said: “I believe that it was necessary to take the initial step of placing funds on the reconciliation list in order to ensure funding for this important endeavor.”

Bill 16-14 established a Public Election Fund. To qualify for public financing, a candidate would have to:

–File a Notice of Intent prior to collecting qualifying contributions
–Establish a publicly funded campaign account
–Only accept contributions from an individual of between $5 and $150
–Refuse to accept a contribution from any group or organization, including a political action committee, a corporation, a labor organization or a State or local central action committee of a political party
–Collect a qualifying number of contributions from County residents: 500 for County Executive candidates, 250 for at-large Council candidates and 125 for district Council candidates
–Meet qualifying dollar thresholds of $40,000 for County Executive, $20,000 for at-large Councilmember and $10,000 for district Councilmember
–Limits are indexed to inflation
–Only contributions from County residents are eligible for matching funds.
–The plan provides strong incentives for candidates to seek out many small individual contributors.

Matching public dollars for County Executive candidates would be $6 for each dollar of the first $50 of a qualifying contribution received from a County resident, $4 for each dollar for the second $50 and $2 for each remaining dollar received up to the maximum contribution. Matching dollars for County Council candidates would be $4 for each dollar of the first $50 received from a County resident, $3 for each dollar for the second $50 and $2 for each remaining dollar received up to the maximum contribution.

The maximum limit on public funds per candidate for either the primary election or the general election will be $750,000 for a County Executive candidate, $250,000 for a Council at-large candidate and $125,000 for a district Council candidate. Matching dollars would not be distributed for self/spouse contributions or to candidates running unopposed.

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