The voter-approved citizens election fund legislation was tabled for a month MOnday night, May 1, so the council can consider six amendments proposed by councilman Greg Fox, a Republican who opposes the legislation.
There was no debate and the vote should come at the council’s June 5 meeting. Fox was not present at the council meeting May 1, but participated through a speakerphone. Fox’s amendments are available on the county council’s web site, under Council Bill 30. The most important amendment would eliminate the use of any taxpayer funds to match small donors giving up to $150 to a candidate. This, according to its proponents, would mean the proposed small donor system of campaign finance reform would not have enough money to make it feasible.
When a final vote does come, Council Bill 30 looks likely to pass county council muster with a veto proof four vote majority and without Fox’s crippling amendments.
Following an hour long work session discussion April 24, councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty said she will support the bill when it comes up for a vote.
“I voted to put it on the ballot and the voters approved it,” she said after the meeting, adding that she will vote for it. That means all four council Democrats are in support, leaving only Republican Greg Fox in opposition. At the work session, Fox objected to everything from the bill’s title to several of it’s details.
Fox had placed the bill, CB30, on the work session agenda to ask a series of technical questions about the campaign finance reform bill, which is designed to exclude large, special interest donations to participating county executive and council candidates starting in 2022. The law would limit donations to $250 over a four-year cycle, and up to $150 of that could be matched by varying proportions from a county taxpayer supplied fund for those who qualified. Estimates are the county would have to set aside about $600,000 annually to collect enough to pay the matching amounts.
Fox said at the meeting’s close that he supports the concept of campaign finance reform, but opposes using tax money to help fund it, even though leaders of several good government groups have explained that using tax money is vital to the reform’s success.
Relying on voluntary contributions is fine, said council chairman Jon Weinstein, one of the bill’s sponsors, but experience in places like Arizona, Connecticut and Maine have showed that voluntary contributions simply won’t supply enough money to make the plan work. Governor Larry Hogan used voluntary contributions to publicly finance his winning campaign in 2014, and then asked the legislation for $1 million in taxpayer funds to replenish the kitty.
Fox claimed that despite estimates that the Howard plan should cost around $2.4 million for the 2022 campaign, he thinks the costs might spiral as high as $4 to $5 million, especially if, in future years, the council expands from 5 to 7 members.
But Weinstein, who co-sponsored the bill with councilwoman Jen Terrasa, said not all candidates would elect to use the new system the first year, so he believes the estimate is a good one. Leaders of Common Cause and Maryland PIRG, who helped sponsor the election campaign for Question A in November, agreed.
County executive Allan Kittleman, a Republican, opposes the reform and could veto the bill, but with four votes in favor, the council could override that veto. Still, critics could try to petition the legislation back onto the ballot in 2018.
If approved, the bill calls for appointment of a commission to write rules and govern the new system’s operations. Montgomery County is set to use a similar system in next year’s election.