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A report released today by Maryland PIRG Foundation finds that the Montgomery County Public Election Fund is working as intended, and is encouraging more small donor participation. The report finds that individual donors participated at a higher rate when candidates participated in the small donor program.
Candidates who qualilfied for the program received more than 96% more individual contributions than candidates who did not participate in the program. (850 vs 434)
The fundraising data from the 2018 election also revealed that the small donor matching program is reducing the influence of big money and enabling people to run for office based on support from the community instead of access to large donors.
“It’s incredible to see the small donor program in action. We are building a democracy where everyone has equal opportunity to participate in county elections regardless of race, gender, age, or income,” explained Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr. “With the small donor program Montgomery County is helping ensure county government is accountable to residents, not wealthy special interests.”
The report analyzes fundraising data for candidates in the 2018 county elections. It looks at data from 57 candidates for county office, 35 of whom participated in the program and 24 qualified to receive matching funds.
- Small donors accounted for a significantly larger portion of the fundraising for candidates in the program. Candidates who qualified for the matching program raised 98% of their money in small contributions ($150 or less) and matching funds compared to 3% for candidates who did not participate
- The average donation was dramatically smaller for qualifying candidates. Candidates qualifying for the program received an average contribution of $86 compared to $1,145 for non-participating candidates.
- Candidates running for county council seats were able to use the small donor system to run competitive races. Once you add matching funds, the average contribution for candidates participating in the program was similar to the average contribution for candidates accepting large contributions. ($306 for qualifying vs $292 for non-participating)
Background: In 2014, Montgomery County became the first community in the state to establish a small donor public financing system for local elections. Since, Howard County, Washington D.C., Prince George’s County, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and Anne Arundel County have established similar programs or are considering doing so. In Howard County and Baltimore City, voters approved of the funds through amendments to the County and City charters. Baltimore City is now considering legislation to implement the program. State legislators have also introduced legislation to establish a small donor matching program for state races. Washington D.C. is in the midst of their first election using the program.
In order to participate in the Montgomery County program, candidates have to file a notice of intent to make use of the fund, establish a new campaign account, and meet a few conditions:
- They must accept only donations from individuals, of between $5 and $150.
- They must refuse donations from large donors, PACs, corporations, other candidates and political parties.
- They must meet minimum thresholds for number of county donors and amount of money raised in order to demonstrate that their pursuit of public office is viable.
If a candidate agrees to and meets these conditions, they become eligible for limited matching funds for small donations made by county residents.
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