Fair Elections ballot initiative passes in Howard County.
Columbia, MD – On Tuesday night, Howard County voters approved a charter amendment to bring balance to our democracy and make local government more representative and accountable to everyday people.
The win lays the groundwork for a citizen-funded elections program for county council and county executive races. The new 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 at the national level, The Government By the People Act.
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. The coalition now turns their attention to passing a final program to:
• Encourage participation: Provide matching funds for small contributions from county residents.
• Elevate the voices of everyday people: Match small contributions on a scale (between 6-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 $150) or any contributions from corporations, unions, or PACs.
“By passing Question A, Howard County 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,” said Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr. “Our democracy is based on the premise that every person should have more or less equal opportunity to influence elections, and by passing Question A we’re one step closer to making that vision a reality.”
“We are pleased that Howard County is joining Montgomery County and states and cities across the country with citizen funded election,” 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.”
“Question A affords the citizens of Howard County an opportunity to pursue public service by lessening the extreme burden of raising campaign funding,” said David Steele of the NAACP for Howard County. “The result hopefully will be a broader representation of all Howard County citizens to further the idea that our county is a great place to live.”
“The Citizen’s Election Fund will go a long way to expanding the opportunity for all people to run for office without relying on special interest money,” said Progressive Maryland Executive Director Larry Stafford. “People of all backgrounds should be able to run for office on the strength of their ideas, not access to money.”
“Howard County’s citizens showed that they understand the link between fair elections and protecting 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 Sierra Club supports Question A because when big polluter money dominates, the people’s voice gets drowned out. In order to protect our environment and keep our communities healthy and safe, we must protect our democracy. This victory demonstrates that the public appreciates the importance of this issue.” Said Josh Tulkin, Sierra Club Maryland Director
“We have an incredible coalition here in Howard County of groups who share the belief that the people, not big money, should have a voice in our elections,” said Wendy Fields of the Democracy Initiative.
The Council will now have to pass legislation to define the program. Advocates hope the Council will move quickly to introduce legislation, and use Montgomery County’s program as a model.
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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.
Authority: Yes! On Citizen Election Fund, Treasurer Jennifer Bevan-Dangel