As frustration grows over big money’s influence in politics and legislation on a federal level looks far from a reality, cities and states take up the issue on local levels.
In a move to limit the influence of big money in determining election results in the state, Baltimore voters passed a bill that allows for public financing of elections. The charter amendment will enable candidates to leverage the small contributions they receive by giving them access to matching public funds.
With the bill’s passing, the state will now set up a “Fair Elections Fund” and a body to oversee it. The goal of the Fair Elections Fund is to limit the influence of big money in elections by providing eligible recipients with matching funds for small-dollar donations. Now approved, the first candidates to receive donations from the fund might not be until 2024.
The bill’s supporters said passing the bill is a huge boost for democracy. Baltimore Councilman Kristerfer Burnett told the Baltimore Sun in July that the fund will enable election contestants to have a level playing field.
“We want to make it as easy as possible for folks to run competitive races,” Burnett said. “You don’t want money to be the barrier keeping people with good ideas out of a race.”
The bill is silent on where the money for the Fair Elections Fund will come from. Bur, however, revealed that the commission will be tasked with determining where the donations will come from once it is set up. He added the city council and administration will empower the commission to set parameters for where the funds should come from.
In 2016, candidates contesting for the office of the mayor spent a combined $9 million – triple the amount spent in the previous mayor’s race. Before Pugh clinched the position, she spent over $2 million herself. Burnett, a first-term legislator, said he would have been better served if such funds were available when he ran for office.
In the past few years, Howard and Montgomery counties in Maryland passed similar public financing legislation.
Public Financing of Elections Around the Country
Other measures passed around the country on Tuesday aimed at limiting big money’s influence in politics. In Portland, Oregon voters passed limits on campaign contributions. Oregon was one of five states in the country with no limits on political contributions. Portland also adopted a similar public fund for elections in 2016 which is expected to begin in time for the 2020 elections. Portland’s fund, like Baltimore’s, will provide matching funds to eligible candidates.
Denver, Colorado also passed a measure to create a city fund to match campaign donations at a rate of 9 to 1 on donations of $50 or less. To be eligible to receive the matching funds, candidates must agree to lower contribution limits, ban corporate, business, and labor contributions, and lower all contribution limits.
Various forms of public election financing have been approved throughout the country although many often face legal challenges and some have been repealed or amended in subsequent years. Arizona and Maine have two of the most comprehensive systems of public funding of elections.