Local Public Campaign Financing Stalls in Montgomery County

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Efforts to establish public campaign financing in Montgomery County have stalled as the County Council begins its August recess without taking action on legislation before the body. As reported by the Gazette,

Written by Councilman Philip M. Andrews, the bill would establish a public financing system for local elections by conditionally matching private contributions with public funds. The bill would allow candidates to receive public money to help fund their campaigns, but places limits on the size of contributions for candidates who accept it.

Council members are questioning the rationale for the bill.

“The question is, ‘What is the problem that we’re solving?’” Councilwoman Nancy Floreen said.

All nine members of the council signed onto the bill when Andrews proposed it in February, but Council President Craig L. Rice said the June 24 primary left him questioning what the proposed reforms could accomplish. He noted that the bill would not stop a political action committee or independent expenditure committee from raising its own money and spending it on behalf of a candidate it supports.

Councilman Andrews believes the bill would improve voter turnout.

“Given the extremely low turnout in this election, it is clear that there needs to be changes made to how elections are conducted,” Andrews said.

Other members support the legislation, but don’t agree it would improve voter turnout.

While Councilman George L. Leventhal supports the bill and the changes it would make, he doubted if it would significantly affect turnout.

“I think [public financing] engages more donors in that small contributions become worth more,” he said. “But small donors are a small circle of politically active people.”

Candidates, though, would be able to spend less time dialing for dollars and more time engaging voters under a public financing system, said Leventhal (D-At Large) of Takoma Park.

Councilman Marc B. Elrich argued that the bill is needed to balance the large developer contributions made to some council candidates.