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Fair Elections Maryland Applauds Howard County Council for fixing their local public financing program

For Immediate Release

Yesterday, the Howard County Council voted 5-0 in support of emergency legislation that clarifies qualifying deadlines so matching funds can be distributed to qualifying candidates participating in the Citizens’ Election Fund program. (Video of the meeting is available here.)

The County has yet to distribute funds to participating candidates who had qualified for matching funds. The Howard County Department of Finance opined that, in the absence of corrective legislation, the Department was legally barred from releasing Citizens’ Election Fund monies to qualifying candidates.

“While we try to avoid issues with implementation, it isn't unexpected during the first use of these programs. That was the case in Montgomery County where emergency amendments were made in 2017,” said Common Cause Maryland Executive Director Joanne Antoine. “We appreciate the CEF Commission for working diligently to ensure the program is properly implemented and the County Council for following through on the will of the voters. We are grateful to County Executive Ball for his continued support and urge him to instruct the Department of Finance to move forward with disbursing funds to qualifying candidates.”

The independent Citizens’ Election Fund Commission has requested this legislation to fix the problem.  After pressure from the public and good government advocates, the County Council held a special session to introduce CB 11-2022, emergency legislation to make technical changes to clarify the law. The emergency bill was sponsored by all 5 members of the County Council and supported by the County Executive and will now go into effect immediately.

All members of the Council voted in support of the emergency legislation, including Councilwoman Christiana Rigby who, as a candidate also participating in the program, requested guidance from the County Ethics Commission out of concern that voting on this legislation might conflict with local public ethics laws. She was given the approval to vote.

“Howard County voters have been waiting for 6 years for an election where candidates can run for office without accepting any large or corporate contributions and instead rely on support from small donors. We thank County Executive Ball and the County Council for fixing a technical issue in the law which has caused an unintended delay in distributing matching funds,” said Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr. 

In 2016, Howard County voters approved a Charter Amendment, Question A, to create the Citizens’ Election Fund. The County Council finalized the program for small donor public financing in 2017.

The 2022 elections will be the first to be held under the local public financing system. 

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The Fair Elections Maryland Coalition has worked to successfully help pass resolutions for charter amendments establishing similar programs across the state. In addition to Howard County, Baltimore County, Baltimore City, Montgomery County, and Prince George’s County have already established Fair Elections Funds, and Anne Arundel County is considering following suit. Maryland has had a public financing system for gubernatorial campaigns since the 1970s, which was updated earlier this year.

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