2021 | Government

Council supports public campaign financing expansion, if state funds it

State positions would become eligible, too

File photo

This story was updated at 9:54 p.m. on March 8, 2021, to correct a quote from Council Member Evan Glass.

The Montgomery County Council on Monday unanimously supported a state bill that would expand public campaign financing to additional political races.

But because state offices would be added, the state should cover the costs, council members said.

The financing system allows for certain donations to be matched by public funds for campaigns. The system is meant to decrease the influence of large donations from businesses, political action groups and other large organizations, helping more people run for office.

The bill would establish public campaign financing for candidates running for clerk of the circuit court, register of wills, sheriff, and state’s attorney in Montgomery County.

Council Member Andrew Friedson said that if the council supports the bill, it should include an amendment in its support that the state cover the public funds for the campaigns.

The county matches small donations with public funds for the campaigns for county executive and County Council.

“I’m comfortable supporting [the bill], but under the context that we include the full position which is that we believe the state ought to appropriate funds for this,” he said. “This is different than the county executive and the County Council. Those are established under county charter. These positions are established under state law.”

Council Member Hans Riemer said the state should encourage local communities to create public finance systems and should be willing to pay for state offices under those systems.

“I’m not sure how likely that is,” he said. “The [bill’s] author says it’s not likely at all.”

Council Member Gabe Albornoz said that as other parts of the country are being regressive in voting rights and making it more difficult for residents to access voting, “this is another example of Montgomery County and the state being progressive in moving forward and ensuring that everyone feels part of this system, which is critically important on a lot of different levels.”

State Del. Eric Luedtke (D-Burtonsville) and Del. Lily Qi (D-North Potomac) requested the bill, which is currently being considered by the Maryland House of Delegates.

Council Member Evan Glass noted that the county does not currently have enough funds for the upcoming 2022 campaign.

“We need to make sure that in this budget and the following budget, we have the funds available for folks to run the county executive and council races, clearly, but I think this is a step in the right direction, regardless of who ultimately funds these programs, because we should always be striving to increase access across the board,” he said.

In October, the council increased the maximum contribution for public financing from $150 to $250 per election cycle, which will be applied to the county’s next election. The maximum match will be $150.

To qualify for public financing in the county, candidates do not accept contributions from groups and organizations, such as political action committees and corporations.

They must have at least:
• 500 contributions, totaling $40,000, for county executive
• 250 contributions, totaling $20,000, for at-large council member
• 125 contributions, totaling $10,000, for district council member

Matching funds are only provided for donations from county residents. The matches vary for the positions that a candidate is running for, such as $4 for each dollar of the first $50, $3 for each dollar for the next $50, and $2 for each remaining dollar up to the maximum contribution for council campaigns.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.