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Maryland Chapter Joins Common Cause in Support of Publicly Financed State Elections
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by Aryah Fradkin | 2005

Common Cause Maryland is campaigning to bring public  financing of campaigns to Maryland. Currently, our elections are a contest between well-financed lobbies competing to spend the most money on their candidates’ campaigns. Between 1995 and 2000, organizations and individuals spent $17 million to fund political campaigns in Maryland. From 2001 to 2005, that number jumped to $118 million,  an astonishing  $101 million increase.

     To understand the impact of corporate money on environmental issues, we need look no further than the “4-Ps bill,” which would have required that power plants reduce their emissions of sulfur dioxide and mercury, as well as  “greenhouse” gases nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide. Naturally, the bill had the backing of the entire environmental community, with the Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Clean Water Action all submitting letters of approval and generating hundreds of letters from concerned constituents. This support, coupled with the voting base of progressive Democrats in the district of Sen. Paula Hollinger, chair of the Senate committee which heard the bill, made the bill seem to be a slam dunk to get out of committee. So what happened?

The answer lies in the array of interests who opposed  the bill, and the amount of money they invested in its defeat.  Allegheny Energy, Constellation Energy, Mirant, and Pepco were the four main power companies that opposed the bill. According to a study done by Common Cause in 2004, these companies contributed approximately $56,000 in the past five years to members of the Maryland Senate, and more than $440,000 to all candidates, far more than given by environmentalists. Because of this glaring disparity, and the huge advantage corporations and other wealthy donors enjoy over the average voter, Common Cause has made public financing of elections its top priority for the upcoming legislative session.  

HB 1031, introduced by Delegate Jon S. Cardin, garnered the support of 39 co-sponsors, and passed the Ways and Means committee by a vote of 14-6 this year, but did not receive a vote by the full House. The bill proposed a system of public financing for which candidates could qualify by collecting a minimum contribution of five dollars from .25 percent of the people in the district they seek to represent (about 282 people in an average Senate district). Qualifying candidates would then receive $80,000 for a House race, and $100,000 for a Senate race. These amounts are roughly comparable to the average amount spent for a House campaign in 2004 , $77,000, and for a Senate campaign, $110,000. Candidates receiving these funds would agree not to raise any more private contributions.      

Reducing the influence of power companies and other corporate donors will bring our lawmakers’ attention back to the pressing issues that matter to their constituents, and away from the lure of big money from big polluters. We therefore urge you to contact your legislators and tell them to support public financing.  We will also need lots of volunteers to help us coordinate this effort. Such activities will include generating postcards to legislators in your area, and helping set up meetings for you and your friends to talk to your legislators in person about your concern for these issues.

The Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club joined with Common Cause Maryland and other groups advocating public financing of state elections to sponsor a forum in the Baltimore area in which Delegate Cardin spoke about the legislation he plans to reintroduce in the 2006 legislative session. If you would like to support this effort, or find out more about the proposed legislation, please contact Cliff Terry, Campaign Finance Reform Chair for the Maryland Chapter, atckterry@bcpl.net or 410-944-9477.     n

 

Aryah Fradkin is Field Director for Common Cause Maryland. She can be reached at  afradkin@commoncause.org or 443-695-1761.

 

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