Maryland County Votes to Publicly Finance Local Campaigns

October 1, 2014

The Montgomery County Council, seeking to draw more small, individual donors into campaigns and limit the influence of special-interest money, voted unanimously Tuesday to establish partial public funding for elections.

The measure will allow eligible candidates for county executive and council to leverage contributions of up to $150 through a system of matching public funds. Candidates opting to enter the financing program will be barred from taking corporate or PAC contributions.

A spokesman for County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said he was prepared to sign the bill, which would be in place for Montgomery’s 2018 election cycle.

Montgomery County joins about half of the 50 states — including Maryland — and a handful of cities that offer some form of taxpayer subsidy to candidates. Maryland lawmakers included a public-funding option for counties in the campaign finance bill passed in 2013. Montgomery is the first county to adopt it.

“What we’re doing is creating a 21st-century model for public financing,” said council member Phil Andrews (D-Rockville-Gaithersburg), the bill’s chief architect, who spent more than a decade working with legislators in Annapolis to enact legislation authorizing public finance of campaigns. The council bill went through 16 drafts before a final version was hammered out.

Andrews, who has accepted virtually no corporate or PAC money in his four council campaigns and an unsuccessful Democratic primary bid for county executive earlier this year, said he views public matching funds as a critical counterweight to the dominance of developer and union money in county campaigns.

“It doesn’t take money out of politics, but it helps push big money to the side,” said Andrews, who will step down from the council in December.

Candidates who opt into the voluntary system will have the first $50 of each individual’s contribution matched at the highest rate: 6-to-1 for county executive candidates and 4-to-1 for council contenders. The next $50 increments would be matched at lower ratios.

In other words, a candidate for county executive who collected $50 donations from three people would receive $900 in matching money. One separate contribution of $150 would be worth $600.

The bill would limit public contributions to county executive candidates to $1.5 million ($750,000 each for the primary and the general election) $500,000 for at-large council contenders and $125,000 for district council candidates.

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