Tag Archives: public campaign financing

Raising Money in Public Financing Takes a Long Time

By Adam Pagnucco.

Former Council Member Phil Andrews’s public financing system is in use for the first time during this election cycle.  It has already changed MoCo’s political landscape, with 33 county candidates – a majority of those running – so far enrolled.  It’s a bit early to say exactly how it will impact specific races, but two facts about the system are starting to become clear.

It’s cumbersome to use.  And candidates who use it need a long time to raise money.

We have already written about the burdensome administrative aspects of the system, especially in demonstrating residency of contributors.  (The system only provides matching public funds for in-county individual contributions of up to $150 each.)  An additional difficulty is meeting the thresholds for triggering eligibility for matching funds.  In order to collect matching funds, Executive candidates must receive contributions from 500 in-county residents totaling at least $40,000; at-large council candidates must receive contributions from 250 in-county residents totaling at least $20,000; and district council candidates must receive contributions from 125 in-county residents totaling at least $10,000.

So far, just seven of 33 participating candidates have reached the thresholds for public matching funds.  Council District 1 candidate Reggie Oldak was the fastest to qualify, hitting the threshold in 112 days.  But Oldak is a district candidate, meaning that her threshold is the lowest, and her district is the county’s wealthiest with the greatest concentration of political contributors.  At-large council candidate Hoan Dang hit his threshold in 148 days, barely beating out Bill Conway (155 days).  Council Members Marc Elrich and George Leventhal, who are running for Executive, needed more than 200 days each to qualify despite having large donor bases going back many years.

Then there are the other 26 candidates who have not yet qualified.  Six of them have been running for more than 200 days.  (District 4 incumbent Nancy Navarro will only be eligible to receive matching public funds if she gets an opponent.)  Eleven more have been running for at least 100 days.  Many of the non-qualifiers have been working hard for months.  It’s just tough to meet the thresholds.

Why is it taking so long to get matching funds?  One reason is that Andrews, the system’s architect, did not design the system to be easy.  He explicitly intended that public dollars only go to candidates who were viable in the sense that they had actual grass-roots support.  Another reason is the nature of fundraising itself.  Candidates who raise money turn to families and close friends first; past contributors next (if they have run before); then extended networks of professional connections, acquaintances and supporters’ networks; and finally complete strangers.  As each network gets further away from the candidate, the marginal difficulty of raising dollars increases.  In a public financing context, the first fifty contributions are easier than the next fifty, which in turn are easier than the fifty after that.  The last few contributions to reach the threshold are the hardest to get.

At-large candidate Danielle Meitiv has been working to hit the threshold with a video on Facebook.

Similar observations can be made about traditional fundraising with this exception: the private system has no single trigger that activates a stream of cash all at once.  The candidates in public financing will be weeded into two groups: the ones who get matching funds and the ones who don’t.  The latter group will be doomed to failure.

There’s one more lesson here for candidates: don’t get into a race late and expect to raise lots of money quickly through public financing.  Even if you have a history of donors going back more than a decade like Elrich and Leventhal, the public system is not built for speed.  If you are a late starter, chances are you will need either traditional fundraising or self-financing to close the gap and have a chance to win.

Share

Candidates, Hug Your Treasurer

By Adam Pagnucco.

Political campaigns have all kinds of characters in them.  There are the campaign managers, the best of whom are data nerds, bartenders, therapists and trouble shooters all at once.  Then there are the hard core supporters, always ready to insist that their candidate is the reincarnation of Mandela and eager to pounce on dissenters online.  There are the cross-eyed pundits, tossing out great gobs of bloggy drivel onto an unsuspecting populace.  And of course there are the candidates, their toothy daytime smiles concealing roiling anxiety in the dead of night.

But no one pays attention to the true MVPs of political races: the Treasurers.  Money is the lifeblood of all campaigns and these are the people who control it.  Without a competent Treasurer, a campaign can’t collect its money, pay its bills, file its reports or do much of anything at all.  And the workload is often far greater than anyone, even the candidates themselves, can ever understand.

I was a Treasurer once.  Senator Rich Madaleno asked me to assume that role for the District 18 slate back in 2008.  It was not the first nor the last dumb thing I have done for a politician I like!  The account records (actually, the disorganized piles of random papers) were delivered to me in shoe boxes.  Shortly afterwards, I began receiving notices from the State Board of Elections that the previous report filings were deficient and needed to be corrected.  But the state didn’t say what the flaws were.  Phone calls to the state offices were laughably useless.  So I had to reconstruct every single transaction in the history of the account(!!!!!) and re-file every single report that had ever been sent in.  This required weeks of agony, but dammit, no account with my name on it was going to get fined.  Even bloggers have standards!

Dear future candidates: don’t ever ask me to be a Treasurer again.  I would rather gargle cockroaches.

This year, the normally substantial challenges of being a Treasurer are compounded for a uniquely unfortunate subset of them: the Treasurers responsible for MoCo’s public campaign financing accounts.  The reason is that the state requires evidence of a contributor’s in-county residency before approving public matching funds for that contribution.  That’s easy to do with online contributions: all a campaign has to do is add a couple fields illustrating residency and collecting a digital signature.  But what happens if a dinosaur (like, say, your author) pays with a written check?  Well folks, that’s when the fun begins!

All contributions eligible for matching funds must be accompanied by proof of residency that is provided to the state.  For physical checks or cash, that means the donor must complete and sign a written form indicating residency in Montgomery County.  Somebody (that might be you, Mr. or Ms. Treasurer!) has to make sure that form is filled out and collected.  If a check or cash shows up in the mail, that means tracking down contact information for the contributor and getting hold of them.  “Thank you for contributing to Politician X, ma’am.  Could you fill out and sign this form showing that you live in MoCo and send it back to us?”  “Well, I’m out of stamps and my scanner is busted.”  “I’m out of the country for two weeks.”  “I’ll think about it and get back to you.”  “I just donated to you.  Why are you bugging me?  I want my money back!”  And these are the G-rated responses.

Campaigns love this like they love tarantulas in the shower.  One campaign surrogate says his campaign “absolutely hates it” when they get paper checks because of the time required to chase down donors.  One candidate with prior electoral experience estimates that the time taken to deal with these administrative issues is 40% greater than it is under the old traditional system.  Another candidate simply says, “Oy.  Vey.”  And again, these are the G-rated responses.

Nothing can be done to remedy these issues in the short term.  And let’s remember: the state is within its rights to demand proof of residency to prevent mistaken distributions of public matching funds.  But candidates in public financing must absolutely do one thing.

Hug your Treasurer.  Do it today!  Tell them you love them.  Or it might be YOU who has to chase down those donors!

Share

First Time Ever: Elrich Reaches Financial Parity with Leventhal

 By Adam Pagnucco.

Many things have happened over the last four election cycles, but one thing has remained constant: George Leventhal has smoked Marc Elrich in fundraising.

Not anymore.

Elrich, who is running against Leventhal, Roger Berliner and Bill Frick to be the next County Executive, just filed his first application for public financing matching funds with the state.  So far, Elrich has more in-county contributors than Leventhal (693 to 590) and has raised more money from in-county individuals ($59,717 vs $46,128).  But Leventhal has received more public funds, leaving him with a slight lead in total fundraising.  Summary data for all qualifying publicly financed candidates appears below.

This is a dramatic turn of events from the past.  Leventhal and Elrich first ran against each other in 2002 as members of slates headed by County Executive Doug Duncan and Council Member Blair Ewing respectively.  Leventhal outraised Elrich by more than 5-1 that year and was backed by hundreds of thousands of dollars more in slate money from the real estate industry.  Over the next three cycles, Leventhal raised about twice as much as Elrich.

But public financing has eroded Leventhal’s edge.  That was predictable considering that both Leventhal and Elrich have had around 600 in-county individual contributors each in both the 2010 and 2014 cycles.  The ability of a candidate to raise money in the public financing system depends solely on the number of in-county contributors he or she has.  So if two candidates have similarly sized individual donor bases, they will raise similar amounts of money.

That fact is not lost on the Leventhal campaign, which sent out the fundraising email below shortly after seeing Elrich’s report.

Leventhal is right to be concerned about Elrich’s financial success.  Leventhal finished fourth and Elrich finished first in the last two at-large council elections despite the fact that Leventhal outraised Elrich 2-1.  What happens now when the two are at financial parity?

Share

At-Large Candidate’s Proposal Breaks Campaign Finance Laws

By Adam Pagnucco.

Council At-Large candidate Brandy Brooks, who is participating in MoCo’s public financing system, would like to help natural disaster victims.  That’s a laudable goal.  But she is proposing to spend campaign contributions to do so.  The problem is that’s illegal under state and county campaign finance laws.

On her website and on Facebook, Brooks promotes an initiative that she calls “Power 100,” in which she invites 100 contributors to donate a combined $2,500 to her campaign, half of which would be paid out to a number of charities helping natural disaster victims.  The charities include organizations helping victims of Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, a mudslide in Sierra Leone and floods in South Asia.

Brooks supporter Ed Fischman went a step further in a posting on the Our Revolution in Montgomery County Facebook page, asserting that public matching funds would be used for disaster relief.  To be fair, it’s unclear whether Fischman speaks for Brooks and Brooks has not yet qualified for public matching funds.

State and county campaign finance laws prohibit these kinds of expenditures.  According to the State Board of Elections’ Summary Guide, there must be a nexus between campaign account expenditures and the promotion of a candidate’s campaign for those expenditures to be legal.  The guide specifically addresses charitable contributions, stating:

Generally, campaign funds may not be used solely for charitable purposes. Maryland law requires campaign funds to be used for the purpose of supporting or opposing a candidate, question, or political committee. Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind that contributors give to campaign committees for one important reason – they want to support the committee’s candidate, question, or political party. When campaign funds are spent for a non-campaign related purpose, it frustrates the intent of the contributor.

However, there are instances when a charitable donation is permissible because it is for a campaign purpose. For example, a candidate may permissibly use campaign funds to attend a charitable event since attending the event increases the candidate’s visibility and allows the candidate to network with potential voters and donors.

ง 13-247 of state election law does allow certain kinds of charitable contributions to be made by accounts that are closing and liquidating their assets, a case that clearly does not apply to Brooks.

Additionally, Montgomery County’s public campaign financing law states, “A participating candidate may only use the eligible contributions and the matching public contribution for a primary or general election for expenses incurred for the election.”  This statement is repeated in the county’s summary of the law.  No one could construe helping disaster relief victims as a primary or general election expense.  It’s noteworthy that the county’s language applies not just to public funds but also to individual contributions made under the public financing program.

Your author really hated to write this blog post but it had to be done.  Generally speaking, when we have examined campaign finance issues in the past, we have sometimes seen behavior that may not be ethical but is legal.  This case is the opposite: what Brooks is doing comes from the best of intentions but does not comply with the law.  Brooks is free to discuss the plight of disaster victims all she wants.  She could also organize a private fundraiser for victims separate from her campaign account.  But if she goes ahead and uses her campaign funds for disaster relief contributions, she will risk sanctions from the state, the county or both.

Share

Updated: Preliminary Fundraising Totals in Public Campaign Financing, September 2017

By Adam Pagnucco.

This morning, we posted preliminary fundraising totals for candidates in public financing.  But one of those reports was wrong because of a problem with the State Board of Elections’ processing software.  This post contains updated information.

Shortly after our original post, we received the following communication from Council At-Large candidate Hoan Dang’s campaign.

Hi Adam, this is Jonathon Rowland, campaign manager for Hoan Dang.  Thank you for the article this morning.  I just want to correct the amount stated.  When we filed with the Board of Elections, our report was duplicated because of a glitch in the system giving us double the amount of donations.  We have been in contact with the Board of Elections since Monday to resolve this issue.  The actual amount of donations is 316.

When your author called Rowland for more details, he said that the Dang campaign found the error first and asked the board to correct it.  Board staff acknowledged the mistake and said that they were working with their IT developer to fix it going forward.  No public funds were ever distributed before the Dang campaign caught the mistake.

Including information provided by Dang’s campaign today, here is the updated comparison of the five campaigns who have applied for public financing.

Dang is not the leader in public financing.  George Leventhal, who is running for Executive, is the overall leader in qualifying contributors and receipts.  (Executive candidates get higher match rates than council candidates.)  Among the council candidates, incumbent Hans Riemer leads in qualifying contributors and Bill Conway leads in matching funds.  This should not discount a strong performance by Dang, whose financial numbers are not terribly different from Riemer’s.

Going forward, we hope the state prevents the kinds of mistakes that affected Dang’s campaign.  In the initial glitchy filing, Dang supposedly requested $148,328 in public matching funds.  (Again, the IT glitch was not Dang’s fault.)  In the updated filing, Dang requested $74,144 in public matching funds.  That’s a $74,184 difference.  If Dang had not caught the mistake, could that difference have conceivably been paid out?  There’s no evidence available on that point.  But for the good of public confidence in the county’s public financing system, we hope such a mistake never happens.

On a different issue, we asked what happened to Council Member Marc Elrich’s filing for public matching funds in our original post.  Elrich said he had enough contributors to qualify back in June but has not filed yet.  When asked about it on Leventhal surrogate Saqib Ali’s Facebook page, Elrich said his delay in filing was related to a payment his campaign had made to the county party, which was subsequently ruled to not be in compliance with public financing requirements.  We reprint Elrich’s statement below.

Share

Preliminary Fundraising Totals in Public Campaign Financing, September 2017

By Adam Pagnucco.

Correction: The numbers for Hoan Dang in this post are inaccurate.  For updated numbers on Dang and a response by Marc Elrich, please visit our updated post.

One of the virtues of public campaign financing is the rapid release of financial reports for participating candidates.  That’s right, folks – for this group of candidates, there is no need to wait until January to see fundraising numbers.  That’s because when they qualify for public matching funds and request them from the state, their financial reports are released almost immediately.  This is terrific for all data junkies like your author as well as inquiring minds among the readers!

Below is a summary for the five candidates who have applied to receive matching funds from the state.  Bear in mind the following characteristics of the data.  First, the number of qualifying contributors means the number of contributors who live in Montgomery County.  Non-residents can contribute up to $150 each but the state will not authorize matching funds for them.  Second, the individual contribution amounts are the basis on which the state determines how much in public matching funds will be released.  Third, the date of cash balance is important because it varies depending on when the applications were sent in.  That is unlike the regular reporting dates on which financial positions are summarized at the same time for all candidates.  And fourth, for those candidates who have only filed once (which includes everyone except George Leventhal), the cash balances do not include public funds from the state.  To estimate the cash positions of those candidates, the cash balance should be added to the public matching funds they requested.

What do we make of this?

1.  Let’s start with the obvious: there are a lot of small checks out there!  While many contributors are probably donating to more than one of these five campaigns, it’s not a stretch to say that close to a thousand people will have contributed by some point in the near future.  It’s hard to make comparisons with the past without exquisitely detailed research to back it up (anyone want to pay us for that?) but our hunch is that this is a larger early donor pool than in prior cycles.

2.  The big story here is Council At-Large candidate Hoan Dang.  At-Large Council Members George Leventhal (who is running for Executive) and Hans Riemer (the only incumbent running for reelection) have a combined 22 years of representing the whole county.  But Dang had more in-county contributors than either one of them!  How does that happen?  Dang ran for Delegate in District 19 in 2010.  He was financially competitive, raising $103,418, but he finished fifth out of six candidates.  There was no reason going into this race to believe that Dang would receive more grassroots financial support than Leventhal or Riemer.  But so far, he has.

3.  Dang is not the only story.  Look at first-time candidate Bill Conway, who collected more private funds than Riemer primarily by having a larger average contribution.  In most elections, challengers struggle to be financially competitive with incumbents.  But the early performances of Conway and Dang relative to Riemer suggest that, at least among publicly-financed candidates, some or all of that gap may be closed.  Our hunch is that a group of at-large candidates will all hit the public matching funds cap of $250,000 and therefore have similar budgets heading into mail season.  The big question will then become how those totals compare to what candidates in the traditional system, like Marilyn Balcombe, Charlie Barkley, Ashwani Jain and Cherri Branson, will raise.

4.  Where is Marc Elrich?  The three-term at-large Council Member and Executive candidate announced that he had qualified for matching funds back in June at roughly the same time that Leventhal and Riemer said the same.  Riemer followed up by filing for matching funds and Leventhal did it twice.  Why hasn’t Elrich filed more than two months after his announcement?  One suspects that the bewildering paperwork requirements of public financing are responsible for the delay, but political types are starting to chatter about it.

That’s all for now.  Candidates, keep those reports coming in so your favorite blog has more material for the readers!

Share

Bill Conway to Qualify for Public Funding

By Adam Pagnucco.

Bill Conway, who is running for Council At-Large, has announced that he has raised enough small individual contributions in the county’s public financing system to qualify for public matching funds.  Assuming that the State Board of Elections agrees, Conway would be the second at-large candidate (after incumbent Hans Riemer) to collect public money.

We will have more to say about Conway and several other at-large candidates in an upcoming series.  His press release appears below.

*****

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday July 7, 2017

Bill Conway Is First Non-Incumbent, At-Large County Council Candidate  To Reach Threshold For Receiving Public Matching Funds

Bill Conway, a Democratic at-large candidate for Montgomery County Council, announced today that his campaign has collected more than 250 contributions from Montgomery County residents, totaling more than $28,000. Once the contributions have been certified by the Maryland State Board of Elections, Conway’s campaign will be eligible to receive more than $84,000 from the Public Election Fund.

Under the public campaign finance law, an at-large candidate for County Council qualifies for matching funds after receiving at least 250 contributions totaling at least $20,000 from county residents. Contributions are matched under the following schedule: first $50 is matched 4×1; second $50 is matched 3×1; third $50 is matched 2×1. This results in a $50 contribution becoming $250, a $100 contribution becoming $450 and a $150 contribution becoming $600.

Participation in the public finance program is voluntary.  Candidates who participate in the program may not accept contributions of more than $150 per individual and may not accept contributions from PACs, corporations or labor unions.

“I’m participating in the public finance program because I believe that every voter should have a meaningful voice in electing our leaders,” Conway said. “I am deeply grateful to my supporters for the confidence they have shown in me through their contributions. If elected to the Council I will bring substantial legislative and business experience, a record of policy innovation, and a commitment to listening to all sides of the issues.”

Visit Bill’s website:

www.billconwayforcouncil.com

and his Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/Bill-Conway-for-Council-294085764336433/

to learn more about his campaign.

###

Contact:

Doug Wallick – Campaign Manager

info@billconwayforcouncil.com

Share

Should You Take Public Campaign Financing? Part Three

By Adam Pagnucco.

In Part Two, we explored some reasons why a candidate may want to enter public financing.  Today we will look at some factors that would argue for staying out.

Reasons to Stay Out

  1. You Already Have Money

In January 2014, then-District 20 Delegate Tom Hucker had a war chest of $146,905.  He had accumulated it by raising money continuously and not having serious challengers since he was first elected in 2006.  Hucker, whose progressive credentials are beyond question and who had sponsored public financing legislation while in Annapolis, would have been crazy to enter public financing for his Council District 5 race had it been available.  He would have had his war chest frozen and would have had to start from zero while facing a strong opponent in Evan Glass.  Even with his starting balance, Hucker won by just 222 votes.

Other state legislators who are thinking of running for council this time are in the same situation as Hucker.  For them, getting into public financing means walking away from significant war chests and participating in a system that is brand new and might have some implementation hiccups.  Self-funding candidates are in a similar place.  It would be understandable for these folks to stay out.

  1. You are Unknown

Complete unknowns rarely win.  Our voters usually expect county-level candidates to have some record in the community before supporting them.  But this is compounded in public financing, which requires participants to hit the in-county thresholds below before distributing public funds.  This will be tough for many unknown candidates.

Even fairly well-known candidates could struggle to qualify for matching funds.  Over the last three cycles, candidates who would not have hit the match thresholds include Mike Subin, Bo Newsome, Hugh Bailey, Sharon Dooley and Bob Dorsey (2006), Nancy Navarro (2008), Duchy Trachtenberg and Royce Hanson (2010) and Duchy Trachtenberg, Vivian Malloy, Ryan Spiegel, Chris Barclay and Terrill North (2014).  Ben Kramer would not have qualified in 2009, but he is primarily a self-funder.  Note that this list includes two incumbents, two school board members, two City Council Members, a state legislator and a Planning Board Chair.  If you are less known than these folks, you could have a hard time in public financing.

  1. You Have Lots of Supporters Outside the County

Most new candidates tap their families, friends and professional associates for start-up funds.  If you’re a MoCo native and have worked in the local area for a while, chances are that you will start with a fair number of in-county contributors.  That’s a good thing for qualifying for matching funds.  But if you come from outside the area and got here recently, that’s a problem.  Your parents and childhood friends in California, your fraternity brothers on the coasts and your former co-workers in New York and Boston can all give you $150 contributions, but none of that will count towards the qualifying thresholds.

  1. You are Running Against an Incumbent

If you are challenging an incumbent in a one-seat race and you enter public financing, you are almost guaranteeing that the incumbent will outraise you.  If the incumbent stays in the traditional system, he or she will clobber you with corporate and PAC money.  If the incumbent also enters public financing and has done even a halfway decent job of constituent service, the incumbent will have more in-county contributors than you and therefore more money.  Either way, you lose.

  1. You Have Connections to the Business Community

If you have a professional background in the business community – especially in development, real estate and/or construction – the progressive left is going to target you.  Individual activists, left-wing groups and maybe even some opponents will label you as “pro-business,” a Democrat in Name Only (DINO) or worst of all, a “tool of the developers.”  It’s debatable whether enrolling in public financing will tamp down such criticism, but it will certainly cut you off from your financial base.  You might be better off sticking with the traditional fundraising system, tolerating attacks from people who won’t vote for you anyway and running a well-financed campaign targeting those voters who don’t care much about the issue.

There you have it, folks.  If you are running for county office, public financing might be a good way to go.  Or maybe not.  It’s all about you and your race.  The decision is yours.

Share

Should You Take Public Campaign Financing? Part Two

  1. 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

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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!

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Share

Should You Take Public Campaign Financing? Part One

By Adam Pagnucco.

Here’s a question that has come up over and over again with various candidates and potential candidates: should they take public campaign financing if running for county office?  Your author’s typical practice is to demand provision of food and/or liquor in exchange for answering this question.  But in the spirit of recent holidays, we are just going to give away our take right here.  Feel free to send liquor anyway!

First, let’s explore the basic characteristics of the county’s public financing system.  Candidates who wish to participate may opt in, but it is not required.  Candidates in the system must establish new public financing accounts with the State Board of Elections and any money in their old accounts cannot be used for current election expenses.  Contributions may only be accepted from individuals at a maximum of $150 per donor.  Corporate and PAC contributions are forbidden.  Self-financing is limited to $12,000 from the candidate and/or a spouse.  The county will match contributions made by in-county residents on a sliding scale with maximum amounts of $600 per donor for Executive candidates and $450 per donor for council candidates.  But to qualify for matching funds, candidates will have to meet certain thresholds in terms of number of in-county contributors as well as amounts contributed.  These thresholds are shown in the table below.

Now here’s the Big Question: do voters care about who uses public financing?  No one knows because 2018 will be the first cycle in which it will be available.  But while public financing is new, discussion of campaign financing is ancient.  Developer contributions to County Executive and County Council candidates were a huge issue in the 1990s and 2000s.  Citizen groups like Montgomery County Citizens’ PAC for the Future (CITPAC) and Neighbors for a Better Montgomery (NeighborsPAC) tracked and published them.  These groups, which have no successors today, formed a political base for anti-growth candidates who vowed to limit or entirely refuse developer contributions.  The result?  Most of the candidates who won the 1998, 2002 and 2006 elections took developer contributions freely, including Doug Duncan, Ike Leggett, Steve Silverman, Mike Subin, George Leventhal, Nancy Floreen and Mike Knapp.  Phil Andrews and Marc Elrich were the primary exceptions, though Elrich lost four straight times before finally winning in 2006.  If most voters viewed developer money as something that would determine their votes, candidates supported by CITPAC and NeighborsPAC like William O’Neil, Vince Renzi, Ann Somerset, Hugh Bailey, Cary Lamari, Sharon Dooley, Cynthia Rubenstein and Chuck Young would have been elected.  It’s unclear whether the politics around public financing will play out any differently.

And so the appropriate criteria for whether to enter public financing relate to the self-interest of the candidate.  In which system will you be better off?  That depends on your own circumstances and the nature of your race.  We’ll start addressing that in Part Two.

Share