Baltimore Fair Election Fund: A Program Young People Can Afford to Invest In

The Baltimore Fair Election Fund is designed to limit the influence of big money, while building the power of small donations. Strengthening the voices and political power of everyday people, including young people.

The cost of running a campaign gets progressively more expensive every election cycle. This leads to candidates feeling pressured to collect large donations from wealthy donors and as that financial stress increases, the connection a donor has to the community becomes less important. The issue of money in politics is important to me and other young people. We understand that money has too much influence in our elections and that those with access to wealth, mostly older individuals, have more political sway. 

A report from Demos revealed that 43 percent of individual donations don’t come from Baltimore City residents and those outside donations are on average 50% larger. They also found that although Black people are two thirds of the population, they are only one third of donors whereas white people are two thirds of donors. Once in office, these politicians spend their energy trying to appease the giants, most of whom are not from Baltimore, who helped them get elected. Who is left behind? Everyday people, young people included, who are more likely to make smaller contributions. People who don’t have the income to write a $500 check and not miss it. 

Many young people are students so we can’t realistically afford to donate large amounts to campaigns while still paying for the things necessary for our education. According to the College Board, the average college student spends over $1000 a year on books and materials so a $500 check, even to a worthy cause, is out of the question for a lot of us. Young people who choose not to pursue higher education because they can’t afford it, or they have other career plans still face the same issue. This situation is especially difficult because investing in the right candidate could ultimately lead to a better quality of life, but between low wage positions and the cost of living donating large amounts is unrealistic. My generation still cares about the state of our democracy. We know the influence of special interests can have lasting consequences throughout our life time, so it’s important for young people to be engaged from the start despite our limited access to money. There are numerous issues my generation wants addressed like climate change, student debt and health care. With so many of us passionate about seeing a change in our community, programs like the Baltimore Fair Election Fund will give more weight to the small donations we are able to contribute. 

In Baltimore City, the needs of people most impacted by the legislation and leadership are left in the shadow of outside groups who can afford large donations.  Big money donors are investing in themselves, not the people.  Baltimoreans shouldn’t have to question whether large donors are going to have its needs met before their friends and family. Disenfranchised communities doubting their own power in democracy has become all too common as they are confronted everyday with the same issues that are never resolved. But Baltimoreans are fighting Back! 

In November 2018, we overwhelmingly voted in support of Question H, an amendment to the city charter to create the Fair Election Fund and its Commission. On Monday, June 24th, CB-403 was introduced providing details on how the program will work and the cost. Of the City’s $2.9 billion annual budget, the cost to pay for this program would only be .08%. Candidates who opt into the program can accept no more than $150 in donations; amounts of $150 and below are more realistic for the average person to contribute. For each donation received, the program would match that amount using a ratio that rewards smaller donations. 

The Baltimore Fair Election Fund is designed to limit the influence of big money, while building the power of small donations. Strengthening the voices and political power of everyday people, including young people. With this program, the time that would typically be spent trying collect money from outside donors will now be used to strengthen ties between the candidate and their community. Major change rarely happens all at once, it takes smaller steps to get there. This program is one step on the path to true democracy. A democracy where the size of your bank account doesn’t determine the size of your voice. Take action with me– contact your local council person and ask them to Vote Yes on the Baltimore Fair Election Fund!