Howard County Council Introduces Program for Citizen Funded Elections

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In November, Howard County Voters Passed Question A, Establishing the Howard County Citizens’ Election Fund

Columbia, MD – On Thursday, Howard County Councilmembers Jon Weinstein and Jen Terrasa filed a bill, Council Bill 30, to create a new way to fund County Council and County Executive races with a small donor matching program. This move comes after voters approved a charter amendment in November to establish the Citizens’ Election Fund.

The program will provide matching funds for small donor contributions to candidates who don’t accept large or corporate contributions. Montgomery County, MD passed a similar program in 2014, and the candidates are now filing to use the system for the 2018 elections. Congressman John Sarbanes, who endorsed Question A and represents much of Howard County, has also authored similar legislation, The Government By the People Act, at the national level.

The Fair Elections Howard Coalition has supported efforts to establish small donor campaign financing for local elections, and helped send the Citizens’ Election Fund to the ballot.

“I am so excited that we are one step closer to fair elections in Howard County. This legislation will allow for more independent candidates to afford to run for office, and it will bring confidence back to our system that our elected officials are beholden to no one other than the voters,” said David Marker, a volunteer on the campaign from Columbia.

“Our democracy is based on the premise that every person should have more or less equal opportunity to influence elections, and today we’re one step closer to making that vision a reality in Howard County,” said Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr, “The voters have sent a clear message that they want their elected officials to be accountable to the people of Howard County alone, not corporate interests.

The Coalition applauded Council Bill 30, filed today, for including several key provisions:

  • Encourage participation: Provide matching funds for small contributions from county residents.
  • Elevate the voices of everyday people: Match small contributions on a scale (between 7-to-1 and 1-to-1) with the smallest donations matched at the highest rate. For example, a $25 contribution matched 4-to-1 is worth $125 to the candidate.
  • Expand opportunities to run for office: People qualify by building support in their community. This allows people from all backgrounds to run for office on the strength of their ideas, not access to money, and will help build a diverse and representative government.
  • Keep big money out: Participating candidates cannot accept large contributions (over $250) or any contributions from corporations, unions, or PACs.

“We are pleased that Howard County is joining Montgomery County and states and cities across the country with citizen funded elections,” said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, Executive Director of Common Cause Maryland. “This reform will help put people back in the driver’s seat of our elections and local government, and help build momentum for Maryland and the nation to adopt their own fair elections programs.”

“This bill will help Howard County protect Marylanders values, including preserving open spaces, ensuring clean drinking water, and reducing toxic pollution. This is truly a win for a clean and healthy environment.” said Karla Raettig, the Executive Director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

The Council hearing on the bill is expected April 19, with the vote scheduled for May 1.

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The grassroots campaign in support of Question A has been endorsed by over 30 local and national organizations and small businesses, including 90+ Cycling, Advertising Media Plus, African American Community Roundtable of Howard County, African Gallery Imports, Artists & Framers, Bearing Gifts, Caplan’s Auction Company, Citizens’ Climate Lobby of Howard County, Clean Water Action, Clipper’s Canine Cafe, Common Cause Maryland, Communication Workers of America (CWA), Democracy Initiative, Every Voice, Finish Werks, Food and Water Action Fund, Free Speech for People, Greenpeace, Howard County Citizens Association, League of Women Voters of Howard County, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Maryland Music Academy, Maryland PIRG, Murillos’ Jewelry, NAACP, Progressive Maryland, Represent US, Sierra Club, Sinex Design Architects, Soft Stuff Ice Cream, Terrapin Adventures, The People’s Voice, TLV Tree Farm, Twenty Cycling Company, and U.S. PIRG.z