Tag Archives: public campaign financing

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.

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.

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.

Will Taxpayers Fund Ficker’s Next Campaign?

By Adam Pagnucco.

As MCM and Seventh State have reported, MoCo political heckler Robin Ficker is running for County Executive.  That’s not shocking – Ficker has a long history of running for office and almost always losing.  What’s new is that Ficker is planning on acquiring a new source of campaign funds.

You, the public.

Ficker’s campaign website explicitly refers to the county’s new public financing system, under which the county matches campaign contributions made by individual residents (but not PACs, corporate entities or non-residents).  The system is opt-in; candidates can use the traditional financing system if they wish.  Ficker created a public financing account to run for Executive on February 8.  But that doesn’t mean he will necessarily get public funds.

Ficker’s campaign website home page.

The county’s system does not distribute taxpayer money to everyone who participates.  Instead, it sets up a number of thresholds candidates must reach before they are eligible for public matching funds.  Under the law, a candidate for Executive must receive at least 500 contributions of $150 or less from county residents totaling at least $40,000 before he or she is eligible for public funds.  The candidate cannot accept money from PACs or businesses and cannot take individual contributions of higher amounts.  Once eligible, the candidate can collect up to $600 in taxpayer funds for each $150 contributed by an individual.  Lesser matching amounts apply to smaller contributions on a sliding scale.  Lower thresholds and different match levels apply to those running for County Council at-large and district seats.

Could Ficker get public money?  Ficker has used two campaign accounts over the last decade, the Robin Ficker for Homeowners Committee (which he used in two runs for County Council) and the Fickers for 15 Slate (which he used to run for the General Assembly along with his son in 2014).  The two accounts together raised $262,762.  Of that amount, Ficker self-financed $259,108, or 99% of his take.  A total of 33 individuals other than Ficker gave to the two accounts.  So Ficker has a long ways to go to get public money.  However, he does plan to use his term limits petition information to raise contributions.  Ficker gathered 17,649 signatures.  If just three percent of those folks contribute $150 or less to his campaign, Ficker will qualify for public matching funds.

And so here is the cost of public campaign financing.  If taxpayers are to fund the campaigns of candidates they might support, they may also have to fund the campaigns of those they do not.  Even the clown prince of political hecklers.  Even Robin Ficker.