Maryland Senate urged to pass voluntary public funding for state legislative race

Mary Boyle, Common Cause (202) 736-5770

Adam Smith, Public Campaign (202) 386-8801

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – State and national advocates of voluntary public funding of political campaigns converged on the State House on Thursday to urge the Maryland Senate to pass such legislation to give the public a greater voice in government by reducing the influence of special interests, make politicians more accountable to voters and make elections more fair and open.

Common Cause, Progressive Maryland and Public Campaign brought citizen lobbyists to Annapolis, where the Senate Education Health and Environmental Affairs Committee held a hearing on the bill, the Public Campaign Financing Act (SB 546). The House of Delegates last year passed the bill, but the Senate did not consider it.

“This bill would put the public interest on equal footing with the big-money donors who now have a virtual monopoly on campaign fundraising,” said Mary Boyle, communications director for Common Cause and resident of Silver Spring. “Replacing private contributions with public funds would reduce the unhealthy dependence of elected officials on special interests and slow down the relentless chase for campaign cash.”

“Maryland’s leaders have a chance to stand up and make elections about voters and volunteers instead of big money and rubber chicken fundraisers,” said Nick Nyhart, president and CEO of Public Campaign. “Legislators in my home state of Connecticut took a bold step and became the first in the country to pass Clean Elections through a legislature. I ask that Maryland legislature to seize this opportunity and make elections here about voters instead of big money campaign contributors.”

“Big special interests don’t give campaign contributions for the fun of it — they give to get privileged access to lawmakers,” said Sean Dobson, Acting Director of Progressive Maryland. “The Pinsky/Cardin bill would help sever the connection between special interests and lawmakers, freeing lawmakers from real and perceived undue influence of casinos and electricity monopolies and enabling them to focus more on the needs of regular voters.”

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-22) and Del. Jon Cardin (D-11), creates a new voluntary way to pay for elections to Maryland’s General Assembly. It is based on successful public financing systems in Maine and Arizona, popularly known as “Clean Elections.” Connecticut also has adopted publicly funded elections for all legislative and statewide races, which takes effect for the 2008 elections.

Under a Clean Elections system, candidates qualify for public financing by collecting a set number of small contributions-usually five dollars. Once qualified, candidates can no longer accept any private contributions and must adhere to strict spending limits. In return, candidates are provided a public grant to run a competitive campaign.

The program is funded by an allocation of $7.5 million or more per year from Maryland’s $70 million unclaimed property fund, as well as a $5 check-off on state income tax forms, excess seed money, qualifying contributions and fines. For more information, go to TK.