As the Howard County Council prepares to vote on Council Bill 30, which will drastically reform campaign finance practices for county council and county executive starting in 2022, the need for this reform is increasingly evident.
In 2010, when Ken Ulman won a second term as county executive, he raised a record $1.4 million, according to state-filed reports. This was significantly higher than the $717,000 he raised in 2006, and far more than Chris Merdon, his ’06 opponent, who raised nearly $500,000 that year.
In 2014, current county executive Allan Kittleman raised $1 million, compared to $1.5 million collected by his rival, Courtney Watson, who lost.
In the two years since that election, Kittleman has already raised another $1 million, based on the report he filed in January. That leaves him with most of two more years to continue raising money until the 2018 election, when Kittleman is expected to seek another term.
How can anyone who is not independently wealthy or who doesn’t have a stable of very wealthy donors hope to compete? Is that the government we want?
According to Kittleman’s post-2014 election reports, 450 gifts were at least $1,000 each, including about $200,000 in chunks of $5,000 to $6,000, mostly from builders, developers, engineers, landscapers, lawyers and others who do business in the county. His average donation was around $600.
Under CB30, candidates who choose to participate would be limited to gifts of no more than $250 over a four year period, and the county would match up to $150 of that in varying proportions. The total cost of a campaign for county executive would be capped at $750,000, all of which would come from small donors who live in the county.
If the county council doesn’t change things with this bill, no one but very wealthy people or those who spend most of their time raising huge amounts of money from special interests could compete to be the county’s top official.
This is our chance to stop this and inject some reason and scale back into our local political system. The investment of around $600,000 a year in taxpayer funds is well worth it to reclaim control of our democracy.
Come to the public hearing April 19 and support a veto-proof passage of CB30!
Larry Carson, Columbia