Tonight is Baltimore City Taxpayers' Night, where Baltimore residents have the opportunity to testify on the proposed FY23 budget. We're excited to support funding for the Fair Elections program! This public campaign financing program will reduce the influence of big money in the political process and encourage candidates for office to speak with and fundraise from Baltimoreans. Our written testimony is below:

My name is Rishi Shah. I’m a Mt Vernon resident, and a policy advocate with Maryland PIRG, a public interest advocacy organization. I’m here to again ask the Board of Estimates to invest in the Fair Election Fund in FY23. This investment in our democracy will benefit candidates and elected officials, the public, and Baltimore as a whole. 

It’s critical that Mayor Scott allocates money to the Fair Election Fund so it is fully operational in time for the 2024 elections. More than 75% of Baltimore City voters supported Fair Elections when it was on the ballot in 2018, and we are grateful Mr. Scott supported the program as a City Councilman, Council President, and candidate for Mayor. 

A study found that over 80% of the money in the 2020 Baltimore mayoral elections came from entities that weren’t eligible to vote in the election. Corporations, PACs, and wealthy donors that don’t live in Baltimore have too much influence in campaign finance and the political process, and Balitmoreans are left out. 

Large campaign contributions have too much influence on who can run for office, what issues make it on to the agenda, and ultimately who wins elections. Women, people of color, and lower-income residents are less likely to have access to the wealthy donors needed to win elections.

Under the Fair Elections program, participating candidates must reject contributions from PACs, corporations, and any contributions over $150. In exchange, the contributions to those candidates from Baltimore residents would be matched on a sliding scale by the program. This would serve the dual purpose of encouraging donations from Baltimore residents and limiting the influence of large and corporate donors, while enabling participating candidates to remain competitive with traditionally funded ones.

When funded properly, these types of programs are effective. In Montgomery County, participants in the Fair Elections program had nearly twice as many donors from the county as traditionally funded candidates.

In the spirit of Taxpayers’ Night, it’s time to ensure that every Baltimore resident–regardless of the size of their checkbook–has their voice heard in the political process. I’m counting on Mayor Scott and the Board of Estimates to support funding the Fair Elections program in the final FY23 budget.