County Councils Act on Citizens Elections Programs: Howard County Council approves fix; Anne Arundel County Council falls short, does not send ballot question to voters
- Joanne Antoine (443) 906-0442 Jantoine@commoncause.org
Fair Elections Maryland applauds Howard County Council for fixing their local public financing program
Yesterday, the Howard County Council voted 5-0 in support of emergency legislation that clarifies qualifying deadlines so matching funds can be distributed to qualifying candidates participating in the Citizens’ Election Fund program. (Video of the meeting is available here.)
The County has yet to distribute funds to participating candidates who had qualified for matching funds. The Howard County Department of Finance opined that, in the absence of corrective legislation, the Department was legally barred from releasing Citizens’ Election Fund monies to qualifying candidates.
“While we try to avoid issues with implementation, it isn’t unexpected during the first use of these programs. That was the case in Montgomery County where emergency amendments were made in 2017,” said Common Cause Maryland Executive Director Joanne Antoine. “We appreciate the CEF Commission for working diligently to ensure the program is properly implemented and the County Council for following through on the will of the voters. We are grateful to County Executive Ball for his continued support and urge him to instruct the Department of Finance to move forward with disbursing funds to qualifying candidates.”
The independent Citizens’ Election Fund Commission has requested this legislation to fix the problem. After pressure from the public and good government advocates, the County Council held a special session to introduce CB 11-2022, emergency legislation to make technical changes to clarify the law. The emergency bill was sponsored by all 5 members of the County Council and supported by the County Executive and will now go into effect immediately.
All members of the Council voted in support of the emergency legislation, including Councilwoman Christiana Rigby who, as a candidate also participating in the program, requested guidance from the County Ethics Commission out of concern that voting on this legislation might conflict with local public ethics laws. She was given the approval to vote.
“Howard County voters have been waiting for 6 years for an election where candidates can run for office without accepting any large or corporate contributions and instead rely on support from small donors. We thank County Executive Ball and the County Council for fixing a technical issue in the law which has caused an unintended delay in distributing matching funds,” said Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr.
In 2016, Howard County voters approved a Charter Amendment, Question A, to create the Citizens’ Election Fund. The County Council finalized the program for small donor public financing in 2017.
The 2022 elections will be the first to be held under the local public financing system.
Fair Elections Maryland coalition disappointed as Anne Arundel County Council falls short on approving charter amendment on public financing
Yesterday, the Anne Arundel County Council voted 4-3, failing to reach the 5 vote supermajority needed to pass Resolution #1-22, an amendment to the County Charter to create a local public campaign financing program, which would have been put on the ballot for public vote in the November 2022 Election. (Video of the meeting is expected to be posted here.)
Anne Arundel County voters can still put the Charter Amendment on the November ballot by collecting signatures from voters, which would put the County on the path to becoming the sixth jurisdiction in the state to establish a small donor public financing program. Significant grassroots support had already been building for a local program: a petition circulated by local residents has garnered nearly 1,000 signatures to date.
“Marylanders from across the political spectrum want to reduce the influence of large and corporate campaign donors. Anne Arundel County voters should have a chance to do so by supporting small donor public financing on November’s ballot, so we are disappointed by tonight’s vote from the County Council,” explained Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr.
“As a lifelong Anne Arundel County resident, I’m disappointed in the Council vote,” said Morgan Drayon, Policy & Engagement Manager at Common Cause Maryland. “I think Council Chair Lisa Brannigan Rodvien said it best, ‘if we really want our County to be the best place for all… we need to have voices that can look at things from different angles.’ Public campaign financing can help to get us there as candidates from more diverse backgrounds without access to wealth would be able to get the resources needed to run competitive races and make the case to voters. So while this is definitely an unfortunate setback, we will continue working to establish a county program that moves us towards a more reflective democracy.”
The Fair Elections Maryland Coalition has worked to successfully help pass resolutions for charter amendments establishing similar programs across the state. In addition to Howard County, Baltimore County, Baltimore City, Montgomery County, and Prince George’s County have already established Fair Elections Funds, and Anne Arundel County is considering following suit. Maryland has had a public financing system for gubernatorial campaigns since the 1970s, which was updated earlier this year.