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Howard County Councilmembers Introduce Fair Elections Bill

Weinstein-Terrasa small donor empowerment bill for citizen funded elections.
For Immediate Release

Ellicott City – Howard County Councilmembers Jon Weinstein and Jen Terrasa took a significant step forward today for increasing citizen engagement in elections by introducing legislation to establish a small donor incentive system for county races. If passed by the Council, Howard County voters will vote to authorize “citizen funded campaigns” through a ballot initiative in November.

Councilmember Jon Weinstein remarked, “Our resolution takes local action to stem the disturbing national trend in election financing. Bringing this resolution to the voters is the best way to affirm our community’s commitment to improving our local election process.” Councilmember Terrasa added that, “Empowering our citizens to have a greater voice in local elections is a matter of fairness and fundamental to the health of our democracy.”

In a fair elections system, candidates for County Council and County Executive who choose to participate agree not to accept large or corporate contributions receive limited matching funds for small contributions from individuals. The small contributions combined with the matching funds will help level the financial playing field for all candidates. Candidates who choose to participate must qualify for the program by showing strong support from individual donors. In 2014, Montgomery County became the first community in Maryland to create a small donor incentive program for local elections. Small donor incentive programs give every-day voters their voice back in a political process too often dominated by large corporate and individual contributors.

Councilmembers Weinstein and Terrasa filed a resolution to add “Citizen Funded Campaigns” to the Howard County Charter. The resolution is necessary to establish a system that voters and candidates can count on over the four-year election cycle. Weinstein and Terrasa filed the legislation for consideration by the Howard County Council, with a public hearing scheduled for February 16 and a vote scheduled for March 7. As a Charter Amendment, the resolution must receive support from at least four of five Councilmembers. If the resolution passes, Howard County voters will have the opportunity to voice their approval for the new system at the ballot this November.

Under the proposal, an independent commission would make funding recommendations to the County Executive and County Council for annual funding appropriations to ensure the program is fully functional for all qualifying candidates in the 2022 election cycle.

“Howard County is joining the vanguard of cities, counties and states around the country that are fighting the corrosive influence of big-money politics,” said Congressman John Sarbanes, who represents much of Howard County and has introduced similar legislation in Congress, the Government by the People Act. “By giving everyday people – and the candidates they support – the ability to power campaigns with small donations, we can reduce the influence of wealthy and well-connected special interests in our democracy and return to government of, by and for the people.”

“In our democracy, the depth of your pocket should not dictate the volume of your voice,” said Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr. “By supporting a small donor incentive program, Howard County voters can stand up to the corporations and large donors who too often dominate our political process and put democracy back in the hands of everyday Americans.”   

“Investing in fair elections is an investment in our democracy,” said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, Executive Director of Common Cause Maryland. “We are thrilled that voters in Howard County will have this opportunity to reaffirm their democracy.”

“People deserve for their voices to be heard over that of special interests,” said Progressive Maryland Executive Director Larry Stafford, Jr. “In Howard County, we have a real opportunity to shift the balance of power away from corporations and the wealthiest of donors back to everyday people.”

"Howard County has the opportunity to elevate the voices of everyday residents in County elections,” said William Roberts, Legislative Director for EveryVoice. “By making way for a system that reduces the influence of special interest money by empowering small donors, the Council will cement its commitment to the notion that big ideas and not big money should be the center of our elections and our political process."

Fair Elections Maryland is a coalition of groups working to establish small donor incentive programs to shift political power away from large and corporate donors and back to everyday people.

Full text of the resolution can be found here.
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