TESTIMONY TO THE HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE
HB 418 Public Funding and Small Donor Act for General Assembly Elections
BY: Susan Cochran, President
DATE: February 6, 2014
League members across Maryland believe that public funding will enable candidates to compete more effectively for political office, promote citizen participation in the political process and reduce the influence of campaign contributions on decision making by elected officials. HB 418 seeks to accomplish several campaign financing reforms that the League has supported in the past.
The bill contains many “best practices” features such as requiring candidates to collect a threshold of seed money in small donations not to exceed $250, specifics about reporting and handling of the seed money collected, and it outlines other fines, fees, and contributions that would contribute to this public campaign finance fund. It skirts the legal problem that the Arizona campaign finance law ran into when it provided extra government financing for publicly funded candidates who were dramatically outspent by opponents, by allowing participants in the Maryland public funding program to raise additional private funding under such circumstances.
The system proposed by HB 418 is very similar to those successfully operating for several years in Arizona and Maine. In a report issued by the federal Government Accountability Office in 2010, “In Maine and Arizona, legislative candidates' participation in the public financing programs, as measured by the percentage of candidates participating and the proportion of races with a participating candidate, increased from 2000 to 2008. Specifically, the participation rate of candidates in Maine's general elections increased from 33 percent in 2000 to over 80 percent in 2006 and 2008. Meanwhile, the participation rate of candidates in Arizona's general elections increased from 26 percent in 2000 to 64 percent in 2008. Also, the proportion of races with at least one candidate participating in the program generally increased from 2000 through 2008.”
A Gonzales poll of registered voters in Maryland found that 70% want public funding. We believe the time is now to adopt public funding for campaigns in Maryland. We need a campaign financing system which will allow candidates to be more competitive, regardless of their access to big money contributors; will control the rising costs of campaigns; and will free candidates from constant fundraising. If public financing restores the faith of people in government by reversing the impression that our elected officials work for their donors and not the people, the minimal fiscal impact is well worth the expenditure.
We urge you to give a Favorable Report to HB 418.