The Clean Water Blog

Baltimore needs a Fair Elections Fund

It's a basic ideal of democracy: everyone should have a vote and a voice to share their thoughts with their elected officials. But the need for candidates to court major donors to win elections can skew these relationships and give those with bigger pockets a bigger voice. Even candidates who want to spend their time with their average constituent know that they cannot be competitive in the race without courting those big dollar donors. 

Corporations, developers, and polluters sometimes have overwhelming influence over what projects and regulations move forward, instead of the power of people who care about protecting the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the land where we live. That's why we're supporting Baltimore's Fair Elections Fund, Bill 18-0229, a charter amendment to shift this power structure and enable candidates to run campaigns with support and donations from community members, not corporate interests. This bill starts the process of creating a small donor campaign finance system where candidates who reject large contributions and those from corporations, unions, PACs, and political committees can receive limited matching funds. This enables them to run a campaign centered on Baltimore voters while remaining competitive with traditionally funded candidates.

In the last city election, the cost to run for Mayor increased by 25% and the cost to run for city council by 50%. This rising cost forces candidates to be increasingly dependent on large and corporate donors. And these big donors aren’t reflective of Baltimore families —they’re wealthier, but they are also far less likely to be women or people of color, and they have starkly different priorities when it comes to public policies. With a Fair Elections program, candidates can fundraise from many small donors in Baltimore instead of courting big donors. By matching small contributions, it enables candidates to run on broad grassroots support and elevates the power of small donations from Baltimore families. This will expand who can run for office, and enable candidates seeking re-election to run a different type of campaign. Every day, our canvass team speaks with Baltimore residents who care about the health of the bay and the stream next door, the litter in their neighborhood and dumping in their parks, truck exhaust, transportation options, and the safety of their drinking water. A Fair Elections Fund will elevate their voices in front of the City Council and Mayor and put them on a level playing field with big donors.

Montgomery and Howard Counties have taken similar action to amplify the voice of everyday citizens and reduce the influence of large donors. With this charter amendment, Baltimore City has a chance to join a growing list of communities in Maryland and across the country taking action to reform our campaign finance system, strengthen our democracy, and elevate the quality of life issues that also lead to a cleaner, greener, healthier environment.

We have an incredible opportunity to build a stronger democracy here in Baltimore, and with your support, we can make it happen. Click here to email the City Council and Mayor Pugh to support Fair Elections in Baltimore.