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Fair elections bill could make campaign donations more equitable

Fair elections bill could make campaign donations more equitable
Councilman Kristerfer Burnett from District 8 speaks at a Community Relations Council meeting. (Ulysses Muñoz, Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore Councilman Kristerfer Burnett’s Fair Elections bill is one necessary step in dismantling effects of centuries of inequitable policies. Baltimore City is one of the most segregated locales in the country (“Baltimore’s next step toward better government,” June 21). Disparities between Black and white residents in income and wealth, health, experiences with police, and access to resources and services are mirrored in state-sanctioned geographical segregation by race.

These divisions are also apparent when examining who funds local elections, like the City Council and mayoral races. Candidates for these offices primarily receive monetary support from a donor class that does not represent our city’s demographics. The average income for a family in Baltimore is around $47,000 per year, but the income in a typical household that’s contributing to local elections is at least $100,000. The majority of city residents are black, but nearly two-thirds of all donors in the 2016 campaign were white. This issue of power and representation is not a problem specific to Baltimore. All over the country and state, people are organizing to put control in the hands of the people most affected by policy and budgetary decisions.

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What is specific to Baltimore is the current opportunity for low-income and working-class folks to run for office. Last November, a majority of voters authorized a charter amendment to create a fund to publicly finance political campaigns of local candidates. Last week, Mr. Burnett introduced legislation to support implementation of this fair elections fund and process. Councilmember Burnett’s bill stipulates, for instance, that any candidate seeking public matching funds cannot take money from corporations, PACs, or even unions, and creates a matching fund that amplifies small donations, matching them exponentially in a way that allows small donors and residents to build power. As one of the many residents who supported this change, I expect the City Council to pass Mr. Burnett’s bill in a move toward truer representation of the Baltimore community in our local government.

Rebecca Armendariz, Baltimore

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