Friday, October 3, 2014

Supes to Take up Campaign Finance Reform Tuesday

Posted By on Fri, Oct 3, 2014 at 4:20 PM

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The governing board for Montgomery County, Maryland, recently voted unanimously to establish a system of partial public funding for county elections.

Why do you care? Well, in case you missed it, campaign finance reform has been on the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors’ front burner lately (a draft ordinance is scheduled to come before the board Tuesday afternoon), and the subject is the focus of a guest opinion piece by College of the Redwoods political science professor Ryan Emenaker.

The measure passed by the Montgomery County Council creates a matching funds system, which ponies up public money to match small donations received by a candidate. The catch is that candidates entering the public financing program will be barred from taking campaign donations from corporations or political action committees.

A story in the Washington Post credits council member Phil Andrew with being the “chief architect” of the measure, and quotes him as dubbing the measure a critical counterweight to the dominance of developer and union money in county campaigns.

“It doesn’t take money out of politics, but it helps push big money to the side,” the Post quotes Andrews as saying.

The measure is complicated, but essentially creates a tiered system of matching funds. As described in the Post, it allows a qualifying council candidate (in addition to eschewing corporate and PAC money, the candidates must also demonstrate their viability) to receive a 4-1 match for the first $50 of each contribution he or she receives, with subsequent $50 increments matched at lower rates. For example, a candidate receiving a $50 donation from Joe Citizen would then receive another $300 in public funds. A donation of $150 would return $600 in public funds, according to the Post, which adds that the measure also places a cap on the amount candidates can receive from public coffers.

The huge question in all this — the cost to taxpayers — has yet to be answered. From the Post:

“The cost to taxpayers remains unclear. It will hinge on how many candidates qualify for the public matching funds. A study by Common Cause Maryland, which supports the Andrews bill, estimated that if matching funds were available during this year’s June primary, it would have cost about $2.5 million. That price tag is almost certain to rise with the match system now in place.”

Maryland is one of about 25 states in the country that have some type of system to publicly subsidize political campaigns. The entire Post story is worth a thorough read for anyone interested in campaign finance reform.
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