Next year’s race for Governor will feature at least one ticket choosing to use the Fair Campaign Financing program, which provides matching contributions for small-dollar political donations. Candidates have until February 22 to opt-in to the program and qualify for funding in the primary election.
Governor Larry Hogan used Fair Campaign Financing funds when he was first elected in 2014. The program has been used by both Republican and Democratic candidates since it was passed in the 1970s, after the Watergate scandal. It was updated and permanently funded in April 2021.
“We are thrilled to see a candidate opting into the newly modernized and funded gubernatorial Fair Campaign Financing Fund. Gubernatorial candidates often need to rely on mega donors or corporate interests to be competitive, but small donors public financing programs provide an alternative,” said Joanne Antoine, Executive Director of Common Cause Maryland. “Candidates choosing to use the program are committing to run a campaign powered by the people of Maryland, not big money, ensuring regular people are the center of our elections and moving us toward a more inclusive, responsive, and accountable government.”
In 2020, Maryland PIRG Foundation released a report which found that the people and entities that donate to Maryland’s Gubernatorial campaigns are not reflective of Marylanders who are eligible to vote in these elections.
“For too long Maryland gubernatorial elections have been dominated by large and corporate donors,” explained Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr. “But with the new fair elections program, candidates for Governor can spend time building support in communities instead of chasing big checks from wealthy donors and special interests. This program will provide a powerful counterbalance to traditional big money politics.”
The updated program enacts stricter requirements on fundraising for participating candidates, shifts the program from a grant to matching fund allocations, and ensures funding for the 2022 gubernatorial election and future elections. These updates were made following the passage of the Maryland Fair Elections Act, a bipartisan bill that was sponsored by Chairman Paul Pinsky (SB415) and Del. Jessica Feldmark (HB424) and approved by bipartisan votes in both chambers.
In order to participate in the updated small donor program for Governor, candidates have to file a notice of intent to make use of the fund, establish a new campaign account, and meet a few conditions:
- They must accept only donations from individuals, of $250 or less.
- They must refuse donations from large donors, PACs, corporations, other candidates and political parties.
- They must meet minimum thresholds for the number of local donors and amount of money raised in order to demonstrate that their pursuit of public office is viable.
If a candidate agrees to and meets these conditions, they become eligible for limited matching funds for small donations made by Maryland residents. Yesterday, the campaign of Rushern Leslie Baker and Nancy Coromoto Navarro-Laurent became the first to opt-in to the program this election cycle.
Public financing is also available in certain jurisdictions throughout the state. In 2014, after authorization from the state, Montgomery County became the first community in the state to establish a small donor public financing system for local elections. Since then, Howard County, Prince George’s County, Baltimore City, and Baltimore County have established similar programs or are considering doing so. The programs in both Montgomery County and Howard County are available for use during the 2022 election cycle. Baltimore County is expected to introduce a bill later this year based on recommendations from the County’s Fair Election Fund Work Group.