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Baltimore Mayor Pugh signs off on two charter amendments for November ballot

Baltimore voters will decide this fall whether the city should allow public funding of local election campaigns and create an independent inspector general’s office.

Mayor Catherine E. Pugh signed the two charter amendment proposals on Monday. Voters will be asked whether they support the measures at the polls in November.

The City Council voted unanimously this month to place the amendments on the ballot.

Supporters say the public financing amendment would limit the influence of wealthy donors and special-interest groups on Baltimore politics. If voters support it, the city will create a Fair Elections Fund and a commission to control it.

The city would provide eligible candidates with matching public funds for small-dollar donations. The charter amendment doesn’t specify where the money would come from. The fair election fund commission would be tasked with recommending revenue sources once it’s created.

But even if approved in November, public financing for local campaigns likely wouldn’t begin until 2024.

Supporters said sending the measure to voters signaled the beginning of the end for big-money politics in Baltimore.

“Mayor Pugh’s actions today show that she understands that working families in Baltimore City deserve to have their voices heard,” Jay Hutchins, acting executive director of Maryland Working Families, said in a statement. “This effort will help empower voters, strengthen local democracy, allow candidates and elected officials to spend more time with their constituents, and rein in the influence of big money in our elections.”

The cost of running for public office in Baltimore soared in the last election. Mayoral candidates spent a total of $9 million in 2016 — three times as much as in the previous race. Howard and Montgomery counties have enacted similar public financing systems.

Pugh also signed a charter amendment proposal aimed at making the Office of the Inspector General independent of the mayor.

Isabel Mercedes Cumming, who leads the office that investigates waste and abuse in city government, said the inspector general position must be independent.

“We have to do the hard investigations and not be biased either way,” she said. “We’re really hoping the citizens feel as strongly as we do that independence is the best thing for the inspector general.”

The City Council also approved a third charter amendment proposal. It would create an equity assistance fund to support programs that work to eliminate “inequity based on race, gender, or economic status in Baltimore.”

Pugh has expressed skepticism that such a fund is needed. She has not decided whether to sign it.

“She’s still reading through that one,” Pugh spokesman James Bentley said.

Councilman Brandon Scott, the amendment’s sponsor, said he’s meeting with the mayor next week to discuss it.

“We know we have to do the structural work as a government to take down some of the policies and practices that have created this gap of inequity in the city,” he said. “And we know it’ll cost money to do that.”

Voters typically approve ballot questions unless there is aggressive opposition. They approved all 10 charter amendments and bond issues proposed in the 2016 election.

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