This Maryland County Could Make Campaign Finance History on Election Day

by Perry Wheeler

November 3, 2016

By passing a ballot measure that would limit the influence of corporate money in local elections, Maryland voters can send a resounding message to Congress: take action or get out of the way!

Money Out, Voters In

"I have a voice. I have a vote. $$ does not."

© Michael Nagle / Greenpeace

It’s no secret that our democracy is under attack from corporate interests. Corporate influence in American politics is getting in the way of progress on everything from climate change to gun control.

Fortunately, communities across the country are fighting back, and next week, Howard County, Maryland has an opportunity to put democracy more firmly in the hands of the people by passing a ballot measure — Question A — that would make politicians accountable to real people over big money donors.

Here’s how it works.

Question A would establish a Citizens’ Election Fund, a small donor empowerment program for county elections. The fund would match small contributions on a scale between 6-to-1 and 1-to-1, depending on the size of the donation. So, if you make a $25 contribution to a candidate, for example, that funding would be matched through the Citizens’ Election Fund to become $100.

To be eligible for the matching funds, local candidates would need to reject corporate or large contributions over $150. Not only would this elevate the voices of everyday people, it will encourage more qualified candidates to run for office rather than simply those who are good fundraisers or well-connected.

This is history-making.

If Howard County votes yes on Question A on Tuesday, it would be the first time a local public financing ballot measure is approved on its own anywhere in the country. I was born and raised in Maryland and spent ten years of my life in Howard County, and I’ve been campaigning for Question A in my community.

We desperately need a better public financing system for our elections. In Howard County, money pours into our county from developers in particular, reaching both Democrats and Republicans alike. Good candidates are either forced to the side or have to spend the majority of their time “dialing for dollars,” calling on only the biggest campaign donors to be able to run for office rather than spending time listening to communities they represent.

I am fighting for Question A because I want to see a functioning democracy that rewards good ideas. I want candidates to spend more time listening to all of us, not schmoozing their largest donors. Passing Question A can help make that happen in Howard County.

When talking with voters about Question A, I hear immediate excitement around this program. People are thrilled about tackling this issue in their home county. Many of the questions or concerns that voters have are based on misinformation spread by the corporate interests that want to see this measure defeated.

Unsurprisingly, the big spenders on the other side have billed the Citizens’ Election Fund as “taxpayer money for politicians.” In reality, the program would cost about $2 per year per voter for elections that prioritize small donors over big money interests.

That is a worthwhile investment in our democracy.

One young man I spoke with last week asked, “So this is our answer to Citizens United, huh?” I responded affirmatively, because that’s exactly what we are doing — building a democracy that confronts the seemingly insurmountable challenges that have been thrown our way.

While money in politics was an issue long before the Citizens United Supreme Court case, that bad decision opened the floodgates. What we are seeing in Howard County and across the country are entire communities saying enough is enough. If Congress won’t step up, we will build the future we want to see locally while we organize for Congress to act.

It is long past time for us to overturn Citizens United and get big corporate money out of politics. Building robust public financing systems at the local level helps address the issue while turning up the pressure for national reform.

By passing Question A, Howard County voters can send a resounding message to our neighbors down the road on Capitol Hill: take action or get out of the way!

Perry Wheeler

By Perry Wheeler

Perry Wheeler is global seafood communications and outreach manager at Greenpeace USA.

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