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.