Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan said Monday that he will accept public financing in the GOP primary, becoming the second person seeking the office this year to participate in a system that had been dormant for almost two decades.

The announcement came as Hogan and his running mate, former Ehrlich administration Cabinet member Boyd Rutherford, filed their candidacy papers at the State Board of Elections in Annapolis.

Hogan said the decision "sends a great message."

"The matching funds level the playing field for grass-roots campaigns like ours," he said.

Hogan's move follows Democrat Heather R. Mizeur's decision to accept public financing in her race for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Neither candidate has committed to use public financing in a general election contest. Both have accepted a spending limit of $2.6 million for the June 24 primary.

If he qualifies, Hogan would become the first Republican to accept public financing since eventual gubernatorial nominee Ellen R. Sauerbrey did so in the primary and general election in 1994. Two Democrats used public funds that year but lost the primary.

Maryland's public financing system, which applies only to the campaigns for governor, is not funded by taxes. The money comes from voluntary checkoffs on Maryland tax forms, collected before the General Assembly halted the practice in 2010.

The fund entered the year with $4.9 million, made up of money from the checkoff plus interest earned over the years. Of that, $2.5 million is available for the primary.

To receive matching funds, Hogan will have to raise at least $258,612 in individual donations of $250 or less — a threshold his Republican rivals have had difficulty reaching.

Harford County Executive David R. Craig reported last month that he and his running mate, Del. Jeannie Haddaway, closed out the 2013 fundraising year with about $183,000 in the bank.

Del. Ron George of Anne Arundel County and Charles County business executive Charles Lollar reported cash on hand of $15,450 and $5,731, respectively — far short of qualifying for public financing.

Hogan, a former appointments secretary to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., said he doesn't believe the spending limit will hinder his campaign, noting that the ceiling is more than 10 times the amount all of his opponents have banked so far.

The decision represents a bet that Hogan — despite a late start compared with his rivals — will quickly raise money from individuals through the conservative network he built up by founding the advocacy group Change Maryland 31/2 years ago.

Hogan told reporters Monday that fundraising will be his priority for the first few weeks of a campaign that had its formal launch last week.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com