- By Adam Pagnucco.
There are a number of factors that argue either for entering the county’s public financing system or staying out. Let’s list the things that might cause candidates to get in first.
Reasons to Get In
- You Won’t Take Corporate or Developer Money
If you don’t want to take corporate or developer money, public financing can be a great way to replace those funds with taxpayer money. Your author ran a series of simulations of what county candidates would have raised in the 2006, 2010 and 2014 cycles if public financing had been available. The huge majority of candidates would have raised less money with public financing than what they actually raised through the traditional system, but there were two big exceptions. Phil Andrews would have more than doubled his take in his 2006 council race and his 2014 Executive race if he had had access to public funds. And Marc Elrich’s receipts would have increased by 55% in 2006, 71% in 2010 and 66% in 2014 with public money. Both Andrews and Elrich refused developer money and Andrews turned away PAC money as well. It’s not a coincidence that Andrews was the author of the public financing bill.
- You Have a Large Pre-Existing Base of Supporters
Under public financing, the key determinant of fundraising is not connections to business or labor or self-financing capacity. It’s the number of in-county residents you can convince to contribute to your campaign. That’s it. For funds received from those folks, the government will pay 75% or more of your campaign receipts, at least until you hit the public match cap. See the thresholds and caps below.
Most incumbents start with supporter bases and should be able to meet the match thresholds if running for reelection. Over the last three cycles, only two incumbents – Mike Subin (2006) and Duchy Trachtenberg (2010) – would have failed to meet them. It is probably not a coincidence that this system was designed and passed by incumbents! State legislators running for county office have a good shot at qualifying for matches too.
Evan Glass is a good example of a non-incumbent who could qualify. Glass had 396 in-county individual contributors in his 2014 District 5 race, enough to qualify if he were running at-large. He raised $159,235 through August 2014, but would have raised $183,382 if public financing were available. With one election under his belt (a VERY close loss) and continued involvement in the community since then, public financing is a real consideration in his case.
- You Can Afford Seed Money
If you don’t start with a large base, you will need a mechanism to raise small contributions. Otherwise, you will get trapped by not having enough in-county contributions to qualify, which means you won’t have the money to set up a campaign infrastructure, which makes it harder to raise small contributions and so on. The public financing system allows candidates (including spouses) to self-fund up to $12,000. You should do that as soon as you can and use the money to set up a website, buy an email list and start running social media ads. That will help you meet the match thresholds and keep your campaign going. Or, if you don’t mind having the incumbents hate you, you can get a big email list for free!
- You Will Benefit from an IE
During the District 20 Senate appointment process, a group of unions and liberal groups announced that they were joining together “to achieve a progressive sweep” in local elections. That means there is a real possibility of a labor-backed independent expenditure (IE) campaign to support left-wing candidates. That could help ease the financial burden on those candidates unlikely to attract significant business support. But counting on the IE is risky – there’s no guarantee that there will be one, that it will be effective and that it will support you. After all, there could be lots of progressive candidates for an IE to choose from next year.
- You Are a Republican
One would think that Republican candidates would collect tons of business money, but that has not been true recently in Montgomery County. Most business interests are non-ideological. They want to pick winners who will support their agenda once elected and they don’t care very much about party labels. (One of the untold stories in this county is the significant volume of political money contributed by Republican business people to Democratic candidates.) But public financing gives Republican candidates another option – they can go to their fellow party members. There are more than 120,000 registered Republicans in MoCo and nearly 60,000 of them voted in the 2014 general election. Good luck getting elected here during the Trump era, but you can at least be financially competitive in the public system. Finally, let’s remember that the most successful user of public financing in recent Maryland history was none other than Republican Larry Hogan, who is now Governor.
So are you convinced that you should enter public financing? Well, not so fast. In Part Three, we will examine reasons to stay out.