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Baltimore - A report released today by Maryland PIRG Foundation finds that the people and entities that donate to Maryland’s Gubernatorial campaigns are not reflective of Marylanders who are eligible to vote in these elections. The report finds that the money raised comes primarily from out of state or non individuals who contribute disproportionately large sums of money.
The report finds that over the last three races for governor, the vast majority (84%) of the money raised came from contributions over $250, despite the fact that those contributions represented less than a fifth (19%) of total donations to candidates.
Small donations are so overshadowed by large donors that there is little incentive for small donors to participate or candidates to seek their contributions.
“Our current campaign finance system encourages candidates to raise as much money as possible as quickly as possible,” explained Maryland PIRG Democracy Associate Rishi Shah. “And as the data suggests, this incentives candidates to spend an increasing amount of time chasing big checks from wealthy donors and special interests.”
The report analyzes fundraising data for candidates in the 2010, 2014, and 2018 gubernatorial elections. It looks at data from 17 campaign accounts.
1. Maryland voters generally don’t contribute to elections. On average, there are about 50 thousand (50,056) contributions to gubernatorial campaigns by Maryland residents every election cycle, which is barely 1% of Maryland’s nearly-five million (4,702,570) voting age population.
2. Over half of the money raised does not come from Maryland voters. 52% of the money contributed to gubernatorial races comes from either out-of-state donors or non-individuals, such as corporations or PACs.
The report recommends the implementation of a small-donor matching program for Maryland’s gubernatorial race, similar to the program used in Montgomery County’s 2018 elections. Such a program allows candidates to opt-in to receive limited matching public funds for small contributions from individuals. In exchange, they cannot receive large contributions or money from corporations.
“There is a growing interest in modern small donor public financing at all levels of government in Maryland,” concluded Shah. “By fixing and funding our gubernatorial small donor campaign finance system we can build a stronger democracy and help ensure our elected officials are accountable to Marylanders, not wealthy special interests.”
Maryland’s current public financing system for the gubernatorial race was implemented in the 1970s. While only contributions up to $250 from individuals count towards seed money and are matched, individuals and non-individuals are able to make contributions up to $6,000, which is far greater than most Marylanders can afford. Under the current system, participating candidates can also accept money from businesses or corporations.
In 2014, after authorization from the state, 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 fund through amendments to the County and City charters. Montgomery County ran their first election using the system in 2018, which showed promising results. Washington D.C. is in the midst of their first election using the program.
In order to participate in the small donor programs, 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, less than $150 or $250 (depending on jurisdiction).
- They must refuse donations from large donors, PACs, corporations, other candidates and political parties.
- They must meet minimum thresholds for number of local 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 local residents.
Maryland PIRG Foundation is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety or well-being.
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