Howard County Council members were bombarded with pleas on Tuesday night to pass emergency legislation allowing for the disbursement of funds from the Citizens’ Election Fund to candidates in contested county races.
About 15 people, including former County Executive Allan Kittleman, who is again running for that position, and former county council members, election fund committee members and residents spoke in favor of releasing the funds during the first night of a multi-day legislative public hearing.
To be eligible for up to $85,000 in matching county funds from the CEF, council candidates must collect at least $10,000 from at least 125 donations. Funds are only available to candidates in contested races, meaning at least two candidates’ names must appear on the ballot. The rules also state that the determination date for when a race is “contested” is six months prior to the Feb. 22 state filing deadline. In other words, the deadline was Aug. 3, 2021.
Councilwoman Deb Jung, who is running for re-election to her District 4 seat, was denied a request for matching funds from the CEF earlier this month by Rafiu Ighile, Howard County’s director of finance. The funds disbursement had been approved earlier by the Howard County finance department and the State Board of Elections, but Ighile said Jung’s race was not contested by the Aug. 3 deadline, and so funds could not be disbursed to her.
In December, Hank Boyd filed to run for the District 4 council seat, along with Jung.
Sue Geckle, chair of the Citizens Election Fund committee, told the council Tuesday that she first became aware of the Aug. 3, 2021 deadline in September and submitted a letter to County Executive Calvin Ball on Oct. 19 asking for emergency legislation to fix it.
“This is honestly the third time I’ve testified for this program,” Geckle said. “I’m shocked and disappointed I have to do it again.”
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As a participant in the fund, Councilwoman Christiana Rigby questioned if she could vote on the issue as it would directly benefit her political campaign. She informed the council that she asked the county’s ethics commission about her concerns and hoped for an answer by Jan. 25.
Many speakers said there was no conflict of interest.
“I think we are contorting ourselves on all kinds of agitated manners to avoid acting,” Councilwoman Liz Walsh said.
The Citizens Election Fund was created after Howard County voters approved a measure in 2016 to allow for a publicly funded election campaign system, which allows candidates who raise enough small donations and shun large contributions to receive matching funds from a county fund.