Maryland Counties move towards small donor democracy

By Emily Scarr
State Director

In our democracy, the depth of your pocket should not dictate the volume of your voice.  Unfortunately large campaign contributions, which few can of us afford to make, have undue influence over who can run for office and the issues they discuss.

Our campaign finance laws are under assault and the Supreme Court has decisively ruled against restrictions on spending levels and corporate electoral spending. In effect they have created an opportunity for us to use a carrot instead of a stick.

Maryland PIRG believes the carrot can be the small donor incentive programs which provides matching funds for small donors if the candidates don’t take large and corporate contributions. This serves the dual purpose of reducing corporate and mega donor campaign spending and re-engaging the community in the electoral process. Our recent congressional elections saw the lowest turnout since World War II.

Yesterday, two Maryland Counties made significant progress in their efforts to put citizens back in the drivers seat of their democracy:

In a small donor system, candidates for County Council or County Executive who turn down large contributions and contributions from special interests can receive limited matching funds for small contributions from their district. Candidates must qualify to participate in the program by showing strong support from citizens in their district.

Maryland Congressman John Sarbanes has authored similar legislation, the Government By the People Act, for congressional elections. And Senator Paul Pinksy has introduced a similar program for Maryland General Assemble offices.

There is no doubt that national eyes are on these proposals and programs in Maryland. By putting small donor incentives into action in Montgomery County and Howard Countt, the public will get to see the effectiveness of the program, building the support and track record we need to pass state and federal reforms.

Democracy works best when members of the public are engaged. There’s no doubt that our democracy is in a perilous state. But we have an incredible opportunity to take local action to put our country on track to fix our broken campaign finance system.

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