Thursday, May 28, 2015

Council to Sponsor Discussion of New Public Financing System

The Montgomery County Council will join the Montgomery County Democratic and Republican central committees at 7 p.m. on Monday, June 15, to co-host a forum on the new law that will allow candidates for County Council and County Executive to qualify for partial public financing for their campaigns. The law, which was unanimously approved by the Council in September, is the first measure of its type for County elective offices in the Washington region and in the State of Maryland.

In approving the County’s Fiscal Year 2016 operating budget on May 21, the Council added $1 million to begin building the fund that will start making public funds available in the 2018 election cycle.

The forum, entitled “A Public Discussion of Montgomery County’s New Public Financing System for County Elections,” will be held in the Third Floor Hearing Room of the Council Office Building at 100 Maryland Ave. in Rockville. The meeting will be televised live by County Cable Montgomery (CCM—Cable Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon). The broadcast also will be streamed through the County Web site.

Explaining the law and answering questions about it from attendees will be a panel including Jared DeMarinis, director of the Candidacy and Campaign Finance Division of the Maryland State Board of Elections; Phil Andrews, a former member of the County Council who was the lead sponsor of the bill that created Montgomery’s public financing system; and Bob Drummer, the senior legislative attorney for the County Council.

Since 2001, members of the Montgomery County Council have urged the Maryland General Assembly to provide the County with the authority to adopt campaign finance reforms. In 2013, the General Assembly enacted a bill that enables counties to provide the option of public financing for county elective offices beginning with the 2015-18 election cycle. Participation by candidates is voluntary.

The forum on June 15 will help explain the details of the law and will provide an opportunity for residents to ask questions about it.

Under the Public Election Fund law, to qualify for public financing, a candidate must:

  • File a Notice of Intent prior to collecting qualifying contributions
  • Establish a publicly funded campaign account
  • Only accept contributions from an individual of between $5 and $150
  • Refuse to accept a contribution from any group or organization, including a political action committee, a corporation, a labor organization or a State or local central action committee of a political party
  • Collect a qualifying number of contributions from County residents: 500 for County Executive candidates, 250 for at-large Council candidates and 125 for district Council candidates
  • Meet qualifying dollar thresholds of $40,000 for County Executive, $20,000 for at-large Councilmember and $10,000 for district Councilmember
  • Limits are indexed to inflation
  • Only contributions from County residents are eligible for matching funds
The plan provides strong incentives for candidates to seek out many small individual contributors. Matching public dollars for County Executive candidates would be $6 for each dollar of the first $50 of a qualifying contribution received from a County resident, $4 for each dollar for the second $50 and $2 for each remaining dollar received up to the maximum contribution. Matching dollars for County Council candidates would be $4 for each dollar of the first $50 received from a County resident, $3 for each dollar for the second $50 and $2 for each remaining dollar received up to the maximum contribution.

The maximum limit on public funds per candidate for either the primary election or the general election will be $750,000 for a County Executive candidate, $250,000 for a Council at-large candidate and $125,000 for a district Council candidate. Matching dollars would not be distributed for self/spouse contributions or to candidates running unopposed.

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