26 Jun Baltimore Could Be the Next City to Empower Small Donors Through Public Financing
Charm City could be next to make small donors a more powerful force in local elections through small donor elections, following in the footsteps of neighboring areas such as Montgomery County, Maryland; Howard County, Maryland; and Washington, D.C. Introduced by Councilman Kristerfer Burnett in April, the Fair Elections Fund charter amendment bill was the subject of Wednesday’s Baltimore city council hearing at which community activists from national and state organizations testified in favor of the bill, including representatives from Every Voice, Common Cause Maryland, Maryland PIRG, Progressive Maryland, Clean Water Action, Jews United for Justice, Represent MD, and Baltimore League of Women Voters.
At the hearing, Councilman Burnett advocated for the necessity of a small-donor public financing program in Baltimore, citing his own difficulties in campaign financing. He emphasized the importance of ensuring that on “the path to elected office… money isn’t the biggest barrier,” because the people should be the determinants of their representatives, not financial wealth. The councilman also criticized how current lobbying and fundraising practices detract from issues and the people, a sentiment echoed by those who testified, including Jennifer Linn, the national campaigns director at Every Voice.
“By freeing candidates from the need to seek out big donors and by making small donors more important to candidates, these programs allow politicians to fund their campaigns from—and thus be accountable to—a more representative group of people,” Linn explained.
Following the hearing, the bill unanimously passed committee, followed by a second unanimous vote on June 25. There will be one final hearing and a full council vote before this charter amendment will appear on Baltimore’s ballot. Should Mayor Catherine Pugh veto the bill, the council will need to override her veto for this to progress.
If passed, the Fair Elections Fund would pave the way for a program that gives candidates who agree to only accept donations of $150 or less, down from the city limit of $6,000, the ability to run free of big money and instead have their small donations matched by city funds. For instance, a $20 contribution from a schoolteacher would be matched with $140 from the city, thus amounting to $160 for the receiving candidate. By limiting big-money contributions and amplifying the voices of small donors, candidates would have more reason to focus their campaigns on a greater number of individuals, and a demographic more representative of everyday people in the candidate’s district.
The Baltimore Sun said it best recently when its editorial board wrote, this charter amendment “is so important to the city’s future” because it forwards the “principal that we’d rather politicians be beholden to their neighbors than to self-interested outsiders.”
Are you a resident of Baltimore? Click here to contact Mayor Pugh and urge her to support the Fair Elections Fund charter amendment. This program would allow all candidates to run free of big money, so the people of Baltimore can be confident that their elected leaders are accountable to all their residents, not just the ones who can write the largest checks.