Fair Elections Programs

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Maryland is a leader in advancing Small Donor Funded Election Programs

In 2014, Montgomery County became the first county in the state to establish a small donor matching program for county council and executive elections. It incentivizes small contributions by providing matching funds to candidates who don’t accept any large contribution or contributions from special interests such as corporations or PACs. ​In the summer of 2017, the Howard County Council established a similar small donor program that candidates can utilize for the 2022 election. At the gubernatorial level, both Governor Hogan and Democratic candidate Mizeur, outsiders to the political establishment, used a similar public funding program for their campaigns in 2014.

​​​​​How Does it Work?

A Small Donor Funded Election program enables candidates with proven community support to win elected office without accepting large or corporate contributions.

Instead of taking large and corporate contributions, participating candidates can only accept small donations from everyday residents. These donations are then matched through the Small Donor program, with the smallest contributions matched at the highest rate. This allows candidates to remain accountable to their citizen base and to compete effectively against candidates supported largely by corporate special interests.

For example, in Montgomery County, a council candidate running for a district seat must:

  • Show community support and viability to qualify for the program by raising $10,000 from at least 125 county residents;
  • Take no more than $150 from each donor;
  • NOT take any donations from special interest groups such as corporations or PACs.

Once qualified, small contributions are matched as follows:

  • The first $50 is matched 4:1, yielding $250 to the candidate;
  • The second $50 is matched 3:1, so $100 will yield $450 to the candidate;
  • The third $50 is matched 2:1, so $150 will yield $600 to the candidate.
  • Only contributions from county residents are matched.

*There are different benchmarks for at-large council and executive candidates.

How Much Does It Cost To Run For Office In Maryland?

In almost all of our charter counties, County Executive races cost over a million dollars. In 2010, Council races cost between $40k and $185k. Competitive council races in 2014 cost an average of $90,000. In 2014, when analyzing all donations to council candidates, 72% of the funds raised came from gifts of over $150. Only 54% of the funds came from individuals – the rest came from businesses, organizations, political campaigns, and PACs. For the two executive candidates, 91% of the funds raised came from gifts larger than $150; and less than half – 49% - of the funds came from individuals.

​How Much Do These Programs Cost?

The cost of a Small Donor Funded Election Program is based on population size and the average costs to run for office. In general, the program costs $2 per taxpayer per year and is a tiny fraction of a percent of a county’s operating budget.