Montgomery County debuted its new system of public campaign financing in this year’s primary election. The cost to taxpayers? $4.1 million (so far).
According to Bethesda Magazine:
That still leaves a bit more than $6.9 million of the $11 million originally appropriated for the 2018 election cycle. Based on projections of the total amount of additional public funding (about $2.625 million) that could be spent during the general election, it appears at least $4.3 million—about 40 percent of what was originally appropriated—will be left over.
The amount in the county treasury could end up being significantly more than that, depending on how competitive several of the fall races turn out to be.
Under Maryland Election Law, Section 13-505, counties may establish their own system of public campaign financing. In September 2014 the Montgomery Council unanimously enacted Bill 16-14, which established a Public Election Fund to provide public campaign financing for County Executive and County Council candidates.
Only contributions from County residents are eligible for matching funds, which are as follows:
- County Executive candidates – $6 for each dollar of the first $50 of a qualifying contribution received from a County resident, $4 for each dollar for the second $50 and $2 for each remaining dollar received up to the maximum contribution.
- County Council candidates – $4 for each dollar of the first $50 received from a County resident, $3 for each dollar for the second $50 and $2 for each remaining dollar received up to the maximum contribution.
The law prohibits political action committees (PACs), corporations, labor organizations and state and local political committees from contributing to candidates who participate in public campaign financing. It also caps individual contributions at $150.
The maximum limits on public funds per candidate for either the primary election or the general election are $750,000 for a County Executive candidate, $250,000 for a Council at-large candidate and $125,000 for a district Council candidate. Matching funds will only be disbursed to a certified candidate in a contested election and will not be distributed for self/spouse contributions to candidates running unopposed.
A candidate who wins the nomination after receiving County matching funds up to the maximum for the office during the primary, may continue to receive matching funds from the County up to the maximum amount for that office during a contested general election for additional qualifying contributions received.
Candidates must return any unspent public campaign funds after withdrawing as a candidate, losing in a primary election or at the conclusion of the general election.
Fourteen states — including Maryland — and a handful of localities have some form of public financing for elections. Last year, Howard County approved its own system, which is similar to Montgomery’s and will take effect for the 2022 election cycle.
Baltimore City voters will decide this fall whether the city should allow public funding of local election campaigns and create an independent inspector general’s office.
Proponents of public financing for candidates say such programs boost citizen engagement in elections by amplifying the power of small donors and encourage more candidates to run in local races.
Opponents of public financing argue that the government has no business in funding individual campaigns. There are also concerns that a localized option would create a disadvantage for candidates in less wealthy counties, which may be reluctant to use tax revenue to fund political campaigns.