Report: Democracy For The People

Big Money in Maryland Elections

Who’s funding elections for Governor?
Released by: Maryland PIRG Foundation

Executive Summary

In Maryland’s gubernatorial elections, the people and companies that donate to campaigns are not reflective of the Marylanders who vote in these elections. On average, donors make large contributions that most Marylanders can’t afford, only a small percentage of the population is making contributions, and the majority of money comes from donors who aren’t eligible to vote in these elections. 

Candidates for office rely on these donors to fund their campaigns. As a result, campaign contributions from a small set of large and out of state donors have too much influence over who can run for office, what issues make it onto the agenda, and often who wins. 

This report analyzes the contributions received, and expenditures of, Maryland’s gubernatorial candidates in 2010, 2014, and 2018 gubernatorial elections. Over the last 3 election cycles, primary election candidates have spent more than 4 million dollars on average. General election candidates spent an additional 4.5 million. And the evidence indicates that donors in Maryland’s gubernatorial elections aren’t reflective of Maryland’s population.

Our review of the data shows that: 

1. Big money--the large contributions that most people can’t afford--drowns out the voice of small donors. Contributions over $250 make up the vast majority (84%) of the total money contributed to campaigns, despite representing just 19% of total donations to candidates.  

2. Maryland voters generally don’t contribute to elections. On average, there are more than 50 thousand (50,056) contributions to gubernatorial campaigns by Maryland residents every election cycle, which is barely 1% of Maryland’s nearly-five million (4,702,570) voting age population.  

3. Over half of the money raised does not come from Maryland voters. 52% of the money contributed to gubernatorial races comes from either out-of-state donors or non-individuals, such as corporations or PACs. 

But, it doesn’t have to be this way. 

Counties throughout Maryland are stepping up to give political power to Marylanders by adopting small-donor matching public campaign financing systems. In 2013, the Maryland General Assembly passed the “Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2013” which enabled counties  to establish public financing for county legislative and executive offices.  Montgomery County, Howard County, Prince George’s County and Baltimore City have adopted such systems,    and Montgomery County used a small-donor matching program in 2018.  These systems provide candidates for office with limited matching funds if they agree to only accept contributions from small donors and meet qualifying thresholds for money raised and donors reached. 

A small donor campaign financing program for gubernatorial races can address the challenges identified by the data. Maryland should model the successes of Montgomery County and others to implement an opt-in small donor matching program for the governor’s race.

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