Bills would boost public financing of campaigns for governor, legislature

By Dan Menefee and Len Lazarick

Public financing of Maryland gubernatorial elections could get help from the general fund in years the Fair Campaign Financing Fund falls short, said Del. Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery.

Prince George’s Del. Jimmy Tarlau plans to introduce legislation creating public financing for legislative races.

Luedtke is sponsoring a bill, HB72, that would require the State Board of Elections to assess the sufficiency of the fund the year before an election — to make sure it can fully finance bids for two candidates in the primaries and one in the general election.

If passed the law would allow the campaign fund to borrow from the general fund in the event of a shortfall and pay it back through the normal revenue stream of fines, tax form check offs, penalties and online contributions — revenue streams that were restored in a bill Luedtke sponsored in 2015 with strong bipartisan support.

Hogan, Mizeur used fund in 2014

The fund paid out $3.6 million in public funds for the gubernatorial bids of Heather Mizeur and Larry Hogan in 2014, said Jared DeMarinis, director of candidacy and campaign finance with Maryland State Board of Elections.

Republican Larry Hogan was the first to successfully run for governor using public financing. In last year’s budget, Hogan proposed replenishing the campaign finance fund with taxpayer dollars.

According to a legislative budget analysis (page 13), Hogan wanted to put $1.8 million from the general fund into the campaign finance fund that had previously been filled only with voluntary contributions from an income tax check-off. That check-off was repealed in 2010, and $1 million was taken out of the campaign fund for other uses. The voluntary check-off was restored two years ago.

The legislature cut $790,000 from Hogan’s proposed funding, and replenished the campaign fund with $1 million to replace the money from the fund that had been taken for other purposes.

Luedtke said there should be a mechanism to ensure public financing is available in 2018.

Mandated appropriation

Luedtke’s bill would require the governor to provide an appropriation in the year before an election in the event of a shortfall.

The fund was established in 1974 and was only used once before Hogan and Mizeur tapped the fund — by Republican Del. Ellen Sauerbrey in 1994, when she lost the race for governor to Prince George’s County Executive Parris Glendening by only 6,000 votes, a result the GOP contested in the courts.

Public funding of legislative races

Del. Jimmy Tarlau, D-Prince George, said he also plans to introduce a bill to establish public financing for legislative races because “We have to do something about the role of big money in elections.”

In a newsletter Sunday, Tarlau told constituents: “The bill would give candidates incentives to stay away from big contributors. Under this bill, if a candidate agrees not to take contributions above $250 and has raised money from more than 300 different contributors, the state will match 70% of the contributions up to $50,000.”

Howard County voters approved public financing for local races in November, but the County Council must pass legislation to implement the program. Montgomery County already has a public financing for local races which will be used for the first time in the 2018 election.

Dan Menefee can be reached at Len Lazarick can be reached at