Democrat Heather R. Mizeur said Wednesday that she will become the first gubernatorial candidate since 1994 to accept public financing for her campaign — and the $2.5 million spending limit that comes with it.
Mizeur, a two-term state delegate from Montgomery County, announced the decision as part of a broad proposal to curb the influence of special interests on elections. Among the provisions are replacement of Maryland's governor's-race-only financing program with a comprehensive system for all state offices.
"How you campaign is how you will govern, and I believe in leading by example," she said.
Mizeur's decision and campaign finance package won praise from the election watchdog group Common Cause Maryland.
"Delegate Mizeur's proposals are a common-sense way to bring balance to the system," said executive director Jennifer Bevan-Dangel. "We call on all the gubernatorial candidates to take public funding and forgo special-interest money."
Mizeur said she will accept public financing for the primary but doesn't know what she would do in the general election if she should win her party's nomination. She faces two better-known and better-financed candidates — Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler — in the June 24 primary.
Neither Brown nor Gansler plans to follow her lead, their campaigns said Wednesday.
"That's her decision to make, and we think it's based on the fundraising ability they have," said Bob Wheelock, a spokesman for the Gansler campaign. Having access to public funds "may help them," he said.
Mizeur said her decision reflects long-held principles rather than a calculation of how she can obtain the most money. She expressed confidence that she could have raised at least $2.5 million on her own but said she chose a system under which the she can tap $1.25 million in public funding if she can match it with $1.25 million she raises in individual contributions of less than $250.
Gansler entered the year with $5 million in the bank, while Brown and his running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, had a combined total of more than $3.5 million. Mizeur had $381,000. All three Democrats have been raising funds aggressively for a primary race that will almost certainly cost well over $10 million. The next campaign finance reports are due in January.
Mizeur said $2.5 million would be enough to keep her competitive.
"We reject the notion that you have to spend dollar for dollar what somebody else is spending," she said.
Mizeur has made unconventional policy proposals that could excite Democratic primary voters. They include her recent proposal to legalize and regulate marijuana and use the revenue it generates to fund early-childhood education.
The current public financing system, funded by voluntary taxpayer contributions, was adopted in 1974. It was used only in the 1994 campaign, when Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey and two Democrats used it for the primary. Sauerbrey won her party's nomination and chose to use public financing again in the general election. She lost by a razor-thin margin to Parris N. Glendening, who significantly outspent her.
In her election reform proposal, Mizeur called for a "robust" campaign financing system such as those adopted in Maine and Connecticut. Unlike the current system, it would be available for all state offices with different funding limits, depending on the position.
Mizeur said Maryland could pay for such a system, which she estimates would cost $9.75 million annually, with a 12 percent surcharge on traffic and other District Court fines — a mechanism similar to Arizona's.
Other parts of her proposal would ban corporate contributions and donations from state contractors, and it would increase the time a former legislator must wait before becoming a lobbyist.