Columbia, MD – On Wednesday, nearly 75 supporters of the Howard County Citizens’ Election Fund program turned out for a rally and public hearing to support Council Bill 30 (CB30). In November, Howard County voters approved Question A, directing the Howard County Council to establish a new way to fund County Council and County Executive elections through a small donor matching program to limit large and corporate campaign contributions.
Supporters gathered before the hearing to listen to speeches from Congressman John Sarbanes, Council sponsors Jon Weinstein and Jen Terrasa, community organizations and activists, environmental groups, and good government groups. At the hearing itself, all but one of the 20 community members who testified supported the program, including speakers representing; the Howard County League of Women Voters; the Howard County Citizens’ Association; the Columbia Democratic Party; Get Money out Maryland; the People’s Voice; Clean Water Action; Maryland PIRG; Common Cause; Progressive Maryland; and the Democracy Initiative.
“As a Howard County citizen for 35 years, I urge approval of CB30 to establish a Citizens’ Election Fund program,” said David Marker, a volunteer on the campaign from Columbia. “This bill will implement the will of Howard County citizens as demonstrated in November when we approved Charter Amendment Question A.”
The program will provide matching funds for small donor contributions to candidates who don’t accept large or corporate contributions. The hearing was dominated by proponents of the program: community activists, small business owners, environmental groups, good government groups, and cultural groups came out to support CB30.
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, came out to support CB30. He has also authored similar legislation, The Government By the People Act, at the national level.
“Last November, Howard County residents took bold and decisive action to reign in the power of wealthy special interests by establishing a new citizen-owned elections system,” said Congressman John Sarbanes, who represents Howard County and serves as Chair of the Democracy Reform Task Force in the U.S. House of Representatives. “Howard County voters – like many others in Maryland and around the country – want to hold elected officials accountable and make our government more responsive to the needs of ordinary people. That’s the promise of citizen-owned elections, which would return us to a government of, by and for the people. Now, the Howard County Council has the chance to take the next step.”
The Fair Elections Howard Coalition, a coalition of good government, business, community, labor, environmental groups, and volunteers, has supported efforts to establish small donor campaign financing for local elections, and helped send the Citizens’ Election Fund to the ballot.
“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,” said Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr, “We are counting on the Council to respond by passing Council Bill 30 with a veto proof majority to finalize the program for citizen funded elections.”
The Coalition applauded Council Bill 30 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.
“Citizen funded election programs have been tested and proven to give voters a bigger voice in our democracy,” said Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn. “It is now Howard County’s turn to follow the lead of Connecticut and many other states and localities by implementing and fully funding this important program.”
“The Citizens’ Election Fund will give the community a stronger voice in electing leaders.” said Democracy Initiative Executive Director Wendy Fields. “When small donor campaigns give more residents the ability to run and win office, our community is better represented.”
“Local environmentalists are tenacious and dedicated, but special interests and polluters often have the upper hand thanks to very deep pockets,” explained Emily Ranson, the Maryland Program Coordinator for Clean Water Action. “When candidates have access to many, small donations, advocates for clean water, for forests, and for wildlife habitat will start on the same footing as developers and corporations.”
The Council is expected to vote on the bill at their meeting on 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, Public Citizen, 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.