Montgomery County Council member George Leventhal, who is running for county executive in 2018, is the only candidate so far to announce a campaign using public financing provided by the county.
He calls public financing “an experiment in democracy.”
The 2018 elections would be the first time county executive and County Council candidates could elect to use the county system. Candidates would need to solicit many contributions, none greater than $150, that would then be leveraged with taxpayer money, according to county law. If a county executive candidate collected $150 from a contributor, that donation could then be supplemented with $600 from the public election fund for a total of $750.
In total, county executive candidates can receive no more than $750,000. County Council at-large candidates could receive no more than $250,000 and district candidates no more than $125,000, according to county documents. The money is available for primary and general elections and all candidates who use public financing must have an opponent.
Leventhal said the use of public election financing will shift what he does as a candidate.
“There is great value in knowing early you’ve raised your money, so you can allocate your time to meet voters,” Leventhal said. “I don’t have to spend all my time dialing for dollars.”
Although he said no one has ever bought his vote, Leventhal said he and other candidates must devote their time and effort to finding people who will give them money.
“Consequently, you spend a disproportionate amount of time looking for support from people who have a lot of money. That’s not in the public interest,” he said.
The county executive’s race could draw several candidates, including David Trone, the Total Wine & More co-owner, who said Friday he is “focused very heavily right now” on the 2018 county executive’s race.
Leventhal envisioned raising and spending about $1 million in his campaign. Trone used his own money mostly to finance his $13.4 million second-place bid for the 8th Congressional District last year.
“Is money sufficient or do you need a track record in the community?” Leventhal asked. “I’m proud of my record and I believe voters will respond favorably to it.”
Even so, he added, “Money helps amplify the message.”
To certify as a legitimate candidate, a county executive candidate would need to get 500 contributions, totalling $40,000, from county residents. According to an email that Leventhal sent to supporters last week, he already has collected more than $10,000.
At-large County Council member candidates would need to collect 250 contributions and an aggregate total of $20,000 to certify a candidacy. District council member candidates would need 125 contributions totaling $10,000.
The question before the county is whether the public financing fund has enough money to cover the cost of upcoming campaigns. The Committee to Recommend Funding for the Public Election Fund recommended $10 million a year ago. Committee chairman David Scull said Friday the panel is trying to decide whether last fall’s passage of a term-limits charter amendment justifies an increase in that amount.
Voters on Nov. 8 passed a change to the county charter that limited the county executive and county council members to three consecutive four-year terms. As a result, four council members cannot run for re-election—Roger Berliner, Nancy Floreen, Marc Elrich and Leventhal. County Executive Ike Leggett, who had previously said he would not seek a fourth term, also would be barred from running.
The public election financing law calls for the county’s finance director, on July 1 in the year before a primary, to determine if the fund has enough money to meet public financing commitments. If it doesn’t, all payments to candidates accepting the financing would be reduced by the same percentage, according to county documents.