Category Archives: campaign finance

Council Provides Crucial Funds for Public Campaign Finance

The following is a press release from Fair Elections Maryland:

Montgomery County Increases Investment in Groundbreaking Fair Elections Program

(Rockville) – Today the Montgomery County Council made a critical investment in democracy by adding $5 million to its public election fund in its FY2017 budget. While this amount is only a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the County’s overall budget, it represents a real commitment to amplifying the voices of small donors in county politics and diluting the influence of wealthy special interests. With adequate funding, the program will be up and running for the next county elections, encouraging more voters to participate in county elections and providing opportunities for a wider range of candidates to run for office.

A citizens’ task force suggested $10 million is needed for the program to succeed and recommended a $4 million installment for FY17, but County Executive Ike Leggett only included $1 million in his FY17 budget. The $4 million, added to the Executive’s $1 million and the existing $1 million from FY16, puts the Public Campaign Fund on track to be fully funded and successful.

“Montgomery County made history by creating the first program in Maryland for small-donor fair elections,” said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland. “We praise the action Council took today. They showed strong support for this critical program, and backed up their words with strong action.”

“In our democracy, the depth of your pocket should not dictate the volume of your voice,” said Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr. “We’re thrilled that the Montgomery County Council increased their commitment to getting big money out of local elections by making strong investment in their small donor matching program.”

“There is no doubt that national eyes are on this program in Maryland. By putting small donor incentives into action in Montgomery County, 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,” said Larry Stafford, Director of Progressive Maryland.

Concerned citizens had testified at the budget hearings and made hundreds of emails and calls into Council office asking the County Council to put $4 million into the budget to fund the fair elections program.

In a small donor fair elections 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 county. Candidates must qualify to participate in the program by showing strong support from citizens in their district.

# # #

 Fair Elections Maryland includes Common Cause Maryland, Progressive Maryland, League of Conservation Voters, Every Voice, Maryland PIRG and many more state and local organizations who support good government. 

LCV Supports Funding for Public Financing of MoCo Elections

Today, I am pleased to present a guest post from Karla Raettig, the Executive Director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

A clean environment depends on clean elections. That’s why the Maryland League of Conservation Voters is urging the Montgomery County Council to allocate enough funds to ensure that the County’s publicly funded elections program succeeds. Two years ago, the Council unanimously established this voluntary system by which eligible candidates for County Executive and County Council can receive matching public dollars for their campaigns. To prove eligibility, candidates must first meet a reasonable threshold of low-dollar donations from individuals in their district, and agree not to accept contributions from corporations, PACs, or labor unions. All donations are capped at $150—as a result, the voices of small donors are empowered, and the playing field is leveled with wealthy special interests.

In jurisdictions from Hawaii to Maine, similar programs have proven effective in diluting the influence of wealthy special interests; refocusing legislators’ attention away from outside, moneyed interests and onto their constituents; improving democratic participation; and promoting greater diversity of candidates, including helping to elect women, minorities, and individuals from less affluent backgrounds.

In order for the program to succeed, however, it must be fully funded for the upcoming County elections. According to the recommendation of an independent task force of Montgomery County citizens, the Council needs to allocate $10 million over a four-year cycle—a fraction of the overall budget. Unfortunately, only $1 million has been set aside so far. Next week, the full Council will discuss whether to accept the recommendation by the Government Operations Committee to allocate $4 million in the FY ’17 budget for the program.

Maryland LCV strongly urges the full Council to accept the recommendation of Councilmembers Katz, Navarro, and Riemer.

Whether it’s federal, statewide, or county races, money is dominating the election process. Self-funded candidates are breaking records. Real estate, developer interests, and lobbyists are giving millions. And yes, even groups like Maryland LCV are in the campaign donation game. But our organization supports a system of public finance over the status quo that favors wealthy special interests over the voice of the voters. We know that voters care about climate change, about the safety of their drinking water and the quality of the air they breathe. It’s precisely these voters whose voices we’d like to see elevated in the electoral process.

According to New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, “campaigns funded principally or entirely by private contributions distort democracy and pull elected officials away from the interests of ordinary, often unorganized citizens.”

It’s time to reduce wealthy special interest influence on our electoral process and equalize the playing field, and Montgomery County is the right place to start. Two years ago, the Montgomery County Council showed they are true leaders in working towards fair elections. Now, they must stay the course and ensure the program is fully funded for success.

Edwards Refuses to Join Van Hollen in Rejecting Campaign Spending by Outside Groups

Both Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards support rolling back the tidal wave of independent expenditures unleashed by the Supreme Court’s “disastrous Citizens United decision,” as Edwards put it. Now, Van Hollen challenged Edwards to agree with him to practice what they preach and pledge to reject spending by outside groups.

But  despite stating that “Marylanders deserve a Senator who will lead with bold solutions in the fight for campaign finance reform,” Edwards quickly rejected Van Hollen’s proposal–one pioneered by Elizabeth Warren in her race in Massachusetts.

So why is Edwards saying one thing and doing another? Van Hollen is far outpacing Edwards in “hard money” donations that fall under the legal limits for direct contributions to campaigns under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

Edwards hope that “soft money” expenditures by outside groups –the same type of spending denounced on her website–in support of her campaign will help her close the gap. In other words, she is unwilling to campaign under the rules she claims to support.

 

VH LetterHere is the proposed pledge:

Free State Pledge_Page_1 Free State Pledge_Page_2

Spare Annapolis D.C. Dysfunction

masthead

Today, I am testifying at the House Ways and Mean Committee in favor of a bill sponsored by Chair Sheila Hixson (D-20) and Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-20) to establish a Blue Ribbon Commission on Voting, Openness, Transparency and Equality (VOTE). My opinion piece in today’s Baltimore Sun explains why:

It makes sense to get on the off ramp instead of heading directly into the blockages that plague the federal level. Reforms to the electoral system have the potential to encourage cooperation even as we respect the partisan differences that render our democracy vibrant. Happily, many of these changes can also encourage participation.

Capitol Hill looks like dysfunction junction. Let’s take a look at possible changes that could help prevent Annapolis from following that route.

The Committee for Montgomery, a broad-based alliance of business, labor, education, civic and community-based organizations played a key role in developing the ideas behind this bill.

Only 1 MoCo Candidate Didn’t File Campaign Finance Reports

An examination of the campaign finance reports of Montgomery County General Assembly candidates reveals that all have filed the three required campaign finance reports (or an affidavit attesting to very low fundraising and expenditures).

Except Ed Edmundson

Ed, who I described in a profile as a likeable out-of-the-box candidate and not from Republican “central casting,” has not filed either of the two last reports. One was due before the primary on June 13th and the other was due on August 26th.

While Ed is running a serious campaign, this lapse may prove a stumbling block in his race towards the finish line. As the diligence of other candidates suggests, it just isn’t something a candidate can forget or take lightly.

Late reports are not uncommon, though more often from candidates who are not running serious campaigns and end up filing affidavits that they spent and raised little money. Ed’s June report is now four months late. If campaign finance reports aren’t filed enough in advance of the election, the disclosure purpose of the law is not really being served or respected.

I asked Ed about it yesterday and received this response:

My Treasurer has all the information to file, my focus has been on going door to door. I’m calling him now, and my guess is that everything will be filed tomorrow.

UPDATE: Ed filed his campaign finance reports today.

 

Changes to MoCo’s Public Financing Law

Many thanks to Common Cause Executive Director Jennifer Bevan-Dangel for letting me know about the major changes made to the public financing bill by the full County Council before its passage. You can find a description of the bill here.

The major change was the repeal of Hans Riemer’s amendment that passed in committee, which allowed donations made outside the County to be matched by public funds. Instead, recipients of public funds can receive donations from outside the County up to the $150 limit but they will not be matched.

Bevan-Dangel also explained: “The bill was amended to allow candidates to declare their intent to be publicly funded and start raising donations at the beginning of the four year election cycle, instead of waiting to the last year of the cycle. (This is critical because otherwise candidates would have had an incentive to raise funds into those old, non-public funded accounts in the ‘off’ years.)” This amendment was sponsored by Hans Riemer.

A motion to add expenditure limits to the bill died for lack of a second. Due to the potential for self-funded candidates to spend enormous amounts, this was probably a good decision by the Council. It is impossible to limit expenditures by people who opt out of the public financing system, as the Supreme Court declared them equivalent to constitutionally protected free speech in Buckley v. Valeo (1976)

Outgoing Councilmember Phil Andrews must be enormously pleased with the unanimous passage of the bill he sponsored. Common Cause Maryland should also take great satisfaction in the passage of this bill, though I notice that they have been very careful to share credit with other members of the Fair Elections Maryland Coalition, such as Progressive Maryland, that worked for the bill.

 

MoCo Passes Public Financing Law

Common Cause MD has issued a press release that the Montgomery County Council has approved public financing for County elections. I’ll let you know of any major changes to the bill as I find out. But for now here is Common Cause’s statement:

Rockville, MD – The Montgomery County Council today took a huge step forward for fair elections by passing with a unanimous vote Bill 16-14, creating a program for county council and executive campaigns that would fight big money interests by empowering small donors in County elections.

“Voters expect public officials to make decisions that advance the public interest. But the hard truth is that special interests too often get special attention from candidates and officeholders,” said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, Executive Director of Common Cause Maryland. “Voluntary small donor, public financing systems like the one before the Montgomery County Council on Tuesday put big ideas, not big money, at the center of our elections and make it possible for people of modest means and lacking connections to established power structures to run and win elections. We are thrilled that Montgomery County is leading Maryland forward. The amendments added today only strengthened the bill, and this is truly a model piece of legislation for other jurisdictions to follow.”

“Montgomery County is the most populated jurisdiction in the state, home to one million people. Its total budget is nearly the same size as Los Angeles. Because of the County’s influence in Maryland and proximity to Washington, D.C., the passage of public financing here will reverberate across the state and the country!” said Kate Planco Waybright, Executive Director of Progressive Maryland.

Nick Nyhart, President & CEO of Public Campaign, said “Today, the Montgomery County Council stood up to big money politics. Their vote to raise up the voices of everyday people in politics is part of a growing movement of millions of Americans fighting for a democracy that’s truly of, by, and for the people.”

“In our democracy, the depth of your pocket should not determine the volume of your voice,” said Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr, “In the face of ever increasing election spending by mega-donors and corporations, the Montgomery County Council took a big step today by tilting the balance of power back to ordinary citizens.  More of our counties should quickly follow suit.”

Under the Fair Elections program, candidates for County Council or County Executive who agree to limit their fundraising by accepting only low-dollar donations from individual donors in their districts will qualify for matching funds.In jurisdictions from Hawaii to Connecticut, such small donor-based Fair Elections reform have improved the election process. The programs encourage prospective candidates traditionally shut out of the political process, including people of color and of modest means or those who lack connections to established sources of political power, to run for office. They make politics more competititv and stimulate more substantive legislative debates.

The Fair Elections Maryland Coalition is working to implement this important reform in other counties and in contests for the state legislature.

Riemer Proposes Change to Public Financing Bill

In the public financing of elections, as in much legislation, the devil is in the details. And the legislation proposed by outgoing Councilmember Phil Andrews has a lot of details, so it can be hard to keep up.

During the Government Operations Committee’s review of the proposal, Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer sponsored an amendment that altered the public financing bill  in a crucial way.

The original bill allowed only donations made within Montgomery  to be matched by public funds. Hans’s amendment eliminated that limitation so that donations made anywhere in the U.S. would be matched by County funds as outlined in the law.

Councilmembers Hans Riemer and Nancy Navarro voted for the amendment, and Councilmember Cherri Branson voted no. Of course, the full Council can reconsider the issue when it takes up the bill.

The argument against the change is that it makes it easier for individuals who don’t live in Montgomery County to influence the outcome of our elections. The amendment also aids the many MoCo residents who have good DC networks but fewer County ties. It further augments the power of interests within the County who have the ability to gather checks from people elsewhere.

For the other side of the argument, I asked Hans to explain why he sponsored the amendment:

I’m a strong supporter of publicly-funded elections and I am confident that this system will help revolutionize Montgomery County politics.  As I supported the bill at committee last week, I proposed several amendments to strengthen it and make it more attractive to potential candidates.

[One] amendment removes the requirement that donors be county residents, because I support a limited amount of fundraising from outside of the county. I believe the most important goal of this bill is to give candidates a viable alternative to raising large donations from corporations and special interest PACs.

In Montgomery County, we are part of a large metropolitan area where many people grew up somewhere else, and many residents work outside of the County. As any first time political candidate can attest, a lot of initial fundraising comes from family, friends, colleagues–the people that know you best and support you because they believe you will be a great public servant.  Removing this base of support from the matching system risks making public financing a nonviable option for some candidates, and they will either opt-out or not be able to run a competitive campaign.

At the same time, my proposal retains the provision that only in-county donations count towards the qualifying thresholds. This will ensure that no candidate can base their campaign on out-of-county supporters.  In order to qualify, a candidate will have to have a huge base of support in the county, because the thresholds are appropriately high.

As is no secret, Hans is originally from California and has benefited from financial contributions from outside the County so cynics might say he knows of what he speaks. However, he makes good points here. Moreover, Councilmember Riemer is now announcing a proposed new change to the legislation that would limit the impact of the committee amendment:

I also plan to propose limiting the amount of money that can be matched for out-of-county donors, to 10% of the total — the current law in the Connecticut public finance system, a model that advocates have pointed to as an example on many points.

I think these measures make the system more attractive to potential candidates, and thus strengthen the system.  The goal is to give candidates a good alternative to raising large checks from wealthy individuals, corporations, and PACs.

As I alluded in my original post on the bill, a balance is important to strike. On the one hand, goals include preventing any one interest or individual, particularly from outside the area, from gaining too much influence. But in order for the bill to work, the incentives to opt into the system need to be strong enough to dissuade candidates from just raising money on their own under the current arrangements.

As John outlined the other day, making hard for people to raise money can serve as a strong disincentive to opt in–not to mention result in the unintended consequence of increasing call time. No one wants candidates to spend even more time raising money rather than meeting with voters.

On the smart decision front, the County has already indexed the limits to inflation. This choice will help avoid the problem with the original Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974, which set fixed limits that inflated away before the were raised in 2002.

One major remaining flaw with the bill is that it fails to address the problem of self-funding candidates who can afford to drop hundreds of thousands of their own money on the race and avoid the system. There are solutions, such as substantially raising the match, so that candidates in the system find it easier to participate. The Council should address this problem when it takes up the bill.

The Case Against Public Financing: A Manifesto

To a certain type of Goo-Goo liberal, public financing of elections seems like a splendid idea.

It isn’t. Here is why:

The New York Example
I’ve worked perhaps even more extensively in New York politics, where City Elections are publicly financed, than in Maryland. From my reading of the bill, it appears based upon the system used to finance New York City Council races. This isn’t a good thing.

In New York State Assembly races, you can effectively finance a campaign with the support of four donors. If you happened to be running for New York City Council, you need the support of hundreds of small donors to reach the match threshold to run an effective campaign. So candidates for City Council are forced to do congressional candidate level hours of call time (20-30/week).

I remember one of the most successful fundraisers in Democratic Politics once asked me whether I’d rather ask a  thousand people for a dollar, or one person for a thousand dollars. The answer for a candidate is obviously the second one.

I’m sure that if any sitting council members truly understood that come 2018, if they pass this, they will be spending six hours a day in a windowless room calling small time activists to beg for fifty dollar donations, this bill would die a swift death.

The New York State Legislature understands this perfectly well.

I remember having a long phone conversation with one of the head lawyers for the New York Senate Democrats on this topic. He vividly related to me the story of how he told the children of Billionaire Financier George Soros that no amount of money was going to buy him a public financing law. Why you ask?

Because most term limited New York City Councilman end up in Albany and will never go back to the nightmare that is raising small dollar donation for matching funds.

The Colorado Example
In Colorado, the max out donation is $400. Typically, a targeted State Senate race in Colorado maxes out at $200,000. (This cycle they will likely hit $225,000). However, $750,000-$1,000,000 is typically spent by the Colorado Senate Democratic Majority Fund in independent expenditure. This means that the real fundraising campaigns happen outside of the campaigns themselves.

Divorced of a candidate’s name or approval, this translates into lots of nasty, negative, no holds barred political advertising. To me this bill seems like a final attempt by Phil Andrews to kneecap Montgomery County business and union interests. While I find this a vile prospect, Phil’s plan is doomed to failure. At the end of the day, Real Estate Developers and Labor Unions are savvy people. They shall do in Montgomery and circumvent the system through independent expenditures.

The Second New York Example
Mike Bloomberg was elected Mayor of New York City as a Republican because his Democratic opponents were capped at $5  million dollars in spending while he dropped nine figures on his campaign. If you want Dana Buyer, Lou Simmons and Jonathan Shurberg on the Council–the top three self funders in Montgomery County in the 2014 Democratic Primary–please vote for this bill.

The Annapolis Example
Maryland Democrats consistently win districts that should send Republicans to Annapolis (with Democratic Performance indices giving Republicans up to a ten-point edge in many seats long held by Team Blue). This is not because we run better campaigns on the Democratic side in Maryland than anywhere in the country. We’re a decade behind New York, Virginia, California and dozens of others in that regard.

It’s because in Maryland’s one-party environment, traditional economic donors that would be inclined to support Republicans (think Comcast) donate to Democrats. Which explains why Jim Mathias, the most vulnerable Democrat in Maryland’s Senate, will face a Republican with less than $50,000 all in to spend. Mathias will have north of $300,000.

If you have Republican County Council candidates with $125,000 in the bank, Democrats should expect to have competitive general elections in districts 1, 2 and 3.

Public Financing in MoCo

PF AtLarge PF DistrictPF Exec

The Cost and Impact of Public Financing

Montgomery County has moved closer to adopting a public financing system for county elections with approval of the bill by the Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee. As the Council packet explained, the bill proposed by retiring Councilmember Phil Andrews would encourage candidates to raise money in small amounts.

A candidate would need to obtain a specific number of small contributions from a County resident of between $5 and $150 in order to qualify for public funding. Each of these qualifying contributions must be received within 365 days before the primary election and at least 45 days before the primary. A candidate for Executive would need to collect at least 500 qualifying contributions and an aggregate total of at least $40,000 to qualify. A candidate for At-Large Councilmember would need 250 qualifying contributions and an aggregate total of at least $20,000. A candidate for District Councilmember must collect at least 125 qualifying contributions and an aggregate total of at least $10,000.

A candidate for Executive certified to receive public funding would be eligible for a matching contribution of $6 for each dollar of a qualifying contribution for the first $50 of the contribution; $4 for each dollar of the second $50; and $2 for each dollar of the third $50. The match for a candidate for Councilmember would be $4 for each dollar of the first $50, $3 for each dollar of the second $50, and $2 for each dollar of the third $50. . . . The maximum public contribution for a candidate for Executive would be $750,000 for the primary and $750,000 for the general election. The maximum public contribution for At-Large Councilmember would be $250,000 and the maximum public contribution for each election for District Councilmember would be $125,000.

A candidate who voluntarily accepts a public contribution must pay for all campaign expenses with the qualifying contributions, the matching public contributions, and a personal loan from the candidate and the candidate’s spouse of no more than $6000 from each.

But the really interesting part–the impact on the candidate funds–was placed at the far end of the report and has been highlighted in the screenshots at the top of the post. A key caveat in any examination of the Council analysis–and indeed, the point of the system–is that some candidates would change their behavior in response to the new incentives. So take these projections of its impact with a dollop of sour cream.

Would the Bill Achieve Its Goals?

The reason that the presidential public financing system died was the ability of candidates to raise far in excess of the amount available through the system. The rise of expenditures by outside groups and their legalization by the Supreme Court has also contributed to the demise of the system.

Not all candidates would necessarily want to participate in the system. The Council Staff report explained that only two district candidates and one executive candidate could have raised more through the proposed system than they raised without it. On the other hand, three of four at-large candidates could have raised more through the public financing system. Over time, the incentive to participate could decline and even disappear as in presidential elections. It will have no impact on candidates who can afford to self-finance their own campaigns.

Another issue that the bill cannot address is the participation of outside groups. Though the incentives to participate in the public financing system could constrain large donations and the total amount spent, it has no impact on expenditures by outside groups from MCGEO to the Koch brothers.

Moreover, it is not fully clear to me that it would necessarily level the playing field for candidates. In some cases, it might increase the advantage of incumbents or the person who has raised the most money. Challengers or less-well funded candidates might still like it because the initial dollars are the most crucial to viability. The marginal impact of expenditures tends to decline as the amount spent rises.

Some final potential quirky effects. First, potential donors might like if they cannot give such large amounts because they would not be asked to write such large checks. Second, candidates may perversely have to spend more time raising money if they have to raise it in small amounts rather than in large chunks from fewer people. The problem will get worse over time unless the limits are adjusted for inflation, like the federal limits in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (a.k.a. McCain-Feingold).