Baltimore City Council Considers Bill to Fully Fund Fair Elections Program

Baltimore City Councilman Kristerfer Burnett introduced an ordinance today to dedicate $2.5 million annually to the Baltimore City Fair Elections Fund. The funding comes from an existing revenue source and is expected to sufficiently fund the program. The bill is co-sponsored by Council President Scott and Councilmembers Bullock, Clarke, Cohen, Dorsey, Henry, and Sneed.

“The Fair Elections program will put small donors at the center of elections, ensuring that we all have equal opportunity to influence their outcome,” explained Rev. Kobi Little, Baltimore City NAACP President. “We can’t afford NOT to fund this program, and we urge the City Council and Mayor to move quickly to pass this bill to do so.”

After authorization from voters in fall 2018, the City Council voted unanimously in December to establish the Fair Elections program, and it was then signed into law by Mayor Young. The new campaign finance system will be in effect for the 2024 election cycle. Candidates for City Council, Comptroller, and Mayor who turn down contributions over $150 and all contributions from corporations, unions and PACs, can receive limited matching funds for small contributions from City residents. The matching funds are tiered to incentive the smallest donations. Participating candidates must qualify by reaching thresholds for small donations raised to show viability and support from the community.

Proponents of the program say it will serve as a counterweight to traditional campaign financing which depends on large and corporate donors. They say the program will increase small donor participation, make elections more inclusive and accessible, and help ensure city government is more responsive to all Baltimoreans.

“Our current campaign finance system rewards candidates who can raise as much money as possible, as quickly as possible, from wealthy individuals and special interests. That’s not how our democracy should work,” said Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr.  “In 2024 things can be different, but only if we fully fund Baltimore’s Fair Elections program.”

Dozens of community members and organizations supporting the initiative are supporting the measure to fund the program, including the Baltimore NAACP, League of Women Voters, Maryland PIRG, Jews United for Justice, and Common Cause Maryland.

The $2.5 million represents less than one-tenth of a one-percent of the City’s $3.4 billion annual budget.

“Ensuring the program is properly funded will build faith in the Fair Elections program for the public and potential candidates,” said Common Cause Director Joanne Antoine. “And dedicated funding will take the politics out of future funding decisions for the program.”

Montgomery County used their small donor public financing program for the first time in 2018. A report from the Maryland PIRG Foundation found that the program worked as intended, and encouraged more small donors.

  • Candidates who qualified for the program received more than 96% more individual contributions than candidates who did not participate in the program. (850 vs 434)
  • Candidates qualifying for the program received an average contribution of $86 compared to $1,145 for non-participating candidates.

The Baltimore Fair Elections campaign is supported by local, state and national organizations including the Baltimore League of Women Voters, Baltimore Sunrise Movement, Baltimore Women United,  Clean Water Action, Common Cause Maryland, Communication Workers of America, Communities United, Democracy Initiative, Food and Water Action Fund, Get Money Out Maryland, Greater Baltimore DSA, Greater Baltimore Sierra Club, Green Party – Baltimore, Jews United for Justice, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Maryland Working Families, Maryland PIRG, NAACP – Baltimore City Branch, Progressive Maryland, Represent Maryland, SEIU -32BJ