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Public Funding for General Assembly Campaigns: This Is the Year!
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by Cliff Terry | 2007

Public financing of campaigns could end lawmakers’ dependence on polluters’ campaign cash

Last year, after several years of trying, bills to provide full public funding for campaigns for the General Assembly passed the House of Delegates AND the Senate Committee on Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs. That’s the first time public funding passed either hurdle. This year we should be able to boost it all the way.

 Here’s what it’s about. Many of the legislators you lobby on environmental issues depend heavily for campaign contributions on businesses and industry trade associations. And the financial self-interest of many of these big contributors puts them on the “anti-environment” side of some of the issues you care most about.

For example, this session’s Clean Cars bill would reduce emissions from Maryland cars, including the carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming. But the bill is opposed by well-funded car makers and dealers.

 Big campaign contributions cannot but influence General Assembly members’ votes on bills that will help or hurt the contributors.

 No amount of tinkering with the current system of financing campaigns will solve this problem. We need a new system. That new system is public financing of General Assembly campaigns, as recommended by the Study Commission on Public Funding of Campaigns in Maryland.

It would be similar to systems that have been working well for several years in Maine and Arizona. All General Assembly candidates who wish to receive public funding would first have to show broad public support by collecting a specified number of and amount of “qualifying” contributions from registered voters in their districts. They must agree to spend essentially nothing on their campaigns except the public funding they receive.

 The bills are SB 546 and HB 731, cross-filed. Please call your senator and delegates and ask them to support them.

Tell them the current system encourages public cynicism about the influence of big contributions on legislators’ votes. And tell them it forces candidates to spend too much time asking for money, time that should be spent instead talking to voters and (in the case of incumbents) doing their jobs.

 

Cliff Terry, Campaign Finance Reform Chair, can be reached at 410-944-9477 or cliff.terry@maryland.sierraclub.org.

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