Groups call on Mayor Pugh to support public financing of Baltimore elections

More than 30 groups sent letters Friday asking Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh to support a City Council bill that would provide public financing for local campaigns.

The council on Monday is set to pass an amendment to the City Charter to establish the “Fair Elections Fund” and a commission to govern it. If approved, the bill would be sent to Pugh. With her support, it would be put to the voters in November.

Jews United for Justice, the League of Women Voters of Baltimore City, Maryland PIRG, Maryland Working Families and more than two dozen other groups called on Pugh to help set up a small-donor campaign finance system.

“We want to ensure that Baltimore develops a program that fits Baltimore’s unique demographics and needs — your leadership will be critical throughout the process,” the groups wrote.

Baltimore’s 15 council members have been unanimous in their support of the bill, but Pugh has not committed to signing it. She says she will wait to comment until after it passes.

Should Pugh veto the bill, the council could override, but would face a logistical challenge. To make the November ballot, charter amendments must be passed by the end of July, and the council has no more meetings scheduled this month.

A spokesman for the mayor did not respond to a question Friday.

Three different letters were sent to the mayor from multiple groups. One was signed by local organizations, another by state environmental groups and a third by national organizations.

The charter amendment, sponsored by Councilman Kristerfer Burnett, would allow the city to provide matching funds for small donations for qualifying candidates who pledge not to accept large donations or special interest money.

The public financing bill is designed to reduce the influence of wealthy political donors — such as developers, law firms and corporations — on races for Baltimore mayor and City Council.

But many details of the proposal remained unsettled — most notably, how to pay for it. Options for revenue sources include an annual budgeted allocation, using fines, fees and surcharges, and grants or donations.

Burnett said the committee created by the legislation would iron out those details.

Montgomery and Howard counties enacted similar public financing systems in 2014. They are being used in elections there this year for the first time.

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