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Baltimore residents said “no” to corporate control of our elections when we overwhelmingly backed in 2018 the charter amendment that created the Fair Election Fund and Commission (Question H). The legislation implementing the fund, introduced by Councilman Kristerfer Burnett in June, is now due for a City Council Judiciary Committee hearing and vote Tuesday, Nov. 5.

The rest of the nation is in sync with Baltimore’s desire for elections powered by ordinary people. When over three-quarters of Baltimore’s voters approved Question H, we were joining the rest of the nation in a popular reaction against the political influence of big money and the corruption it brings with it. The nation said “yes” to new candidates who toppled incumbents and swept into office during the local and congressional elections of 2018.

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Baltimore’s support for the Fair Election Fund likewise says “no” to a state of affairs in which corporate and institutional contributions outpaced those of all individual donors combined in the City Council and mayoral elections of 2016 and in which wealthy donors dwarfed the contributions of lower income voters. We registered our disgust with the corruption encouraged by our current system of campaign financing. We said “no” to the “Healthy Holly” scandal that toppled the Mayor and the CEO of the University of Maryland Medical System, and no to other pervasive funny money antics.

The Fair Election Fund says a resounding “yes to a more democratic system of campaign financing and greatly amplifies the power of lower income voters in elections. The fund would work by providing matching funds to qualified candidates for mayor, city council and comptroller who refuse contributions from corporations and PACS. The fund also limits individual campaign contributions to $150, and only matches contributions from city residents. This will reduce the influence of the wealthiest individuals and households in our local elections.

The most egalitarian feature of the fund is its steeply graded matching formula. In a win for democracy, the smallest donations get the biggest boost. For example, for a certified candidate for mayor or City Council, the first $25 or less is matched at nine times its value, so a donation of $10 is matched by $90 to become a total of $100. Consider the implications of that. If you do not have a lot of money to spare, you think that your small donation doesn’t matter, and so you don’t give to candidates you support. And let’s face it — right now, you would probably be right. But under the Fair Election Fund, your small donation will become much greater; that is empowering, especially when the top contributions of your wealthy neighbors are capped.

The fund also encourages new candidates with fresh ideas to run for local office by allowing them to rely on small donations from many residents, rather than on big donor gatekeepers. Under this system, residents can easily see that we have the power to elect candidates who promote the principles and policies we favor. That’s equality in action, and it encourages more widespread participation on Election Day.

The Fair Election Fund keeps Baltimore in the forefront of national and regional electoral reform. If the City Council enacts the fund, Baltimore will join Howard, Prince Georges and Montgomery counties along with dozens of states and municipalities around the country that have established new funding programs, including sister cities like New York and Washington, D.C.

Do the programs deliver on their promise? So far they have. Look no further than Montgomery County. Its fund went into effect in time for their 2018 local elections. It was a rousing success: Candidates for local office who used the matching fund attracted almost twice as many individual donors as their competitors who did not opt in, and even though they relied only on donors who gave small sums, their donations ended up on average a little larger than their opponents’ because of the matching system. And many of these candidates won.

Baltimore’s fund is estimated to cost less than 1% of the city’s budget — less than $4 per resident. That is literally a small price to pay for more democracy at the ballot box. The voters have already spoken. The City Council should enact the Fair Election Fund without delay.

Toby L. Ditz (toby.Ditz@jhu.edu) is a member of Jews United for Justice and an academy Professor within the Krieger School of Arts & Sciences at Johns

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