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City Council needs to pass election fund

Baltimore City Council member Kristerfer Burnett, center, is the chief sponsor of legislation to create a system of public financing of political campaigns in the city in time for the 2024 elections.
Baltimore City Council member Kristerfer Burnett, center, is the chief sponsor of legislation to create a system of public financing of political campaigns in the city in time for the 2024 elections. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

I read with interest The Sun’s editorial on the “Fair Elections Fund” bill introduced in City Council last month by Councilman Kristerfer Burnett (“Baltimore’s next step toward better government,” June 21). I was one of the great majority of Baltimoreans who favored the Fair Elections Fund when it was on the ballot in 2018. Like many others, I thought the ballot vote meant it was a done deal.

But the City Council must pass enabling legislation. And Baltimore needs the Fair Election Fund even more than I imagined. According to Dome, a non-profit research organization, corporate and PAC money outpaced all individual contributions combined in the City Council and mayoral elections of 2016. Perhaps this will surprise no one, but our current system of campaign financing is undemocratic in other ways, too.

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Consider this: in a majority African American city, nearly two-thirds of all campaign donors were white. This is upside down. Similarly, donors who gave $50 or less accounted for one-third of all individual donors in 2016, but their donations were a tiny sliver of total campaign funds: less than 3%. Councilman Burnett’s bill attempts to reverse this situation. It hits all the right notes: a candidate who seeks funds may not take money from corporations, PACs, or even unions; and individual contributions max out at $150. One of the bill’s most attractive features is its steeply graded matching formula. The smallest donations ($25 or less) get the biggest bang for the buck: they would be matched at nine times their value. A $10 donation becomes $100. The bill would amplify the power of small donors and provide a powerful incentive for candidates who opt into the Fair Election Fund to seek out new constituencies. The result will be higher voter turnout, especially among low income and black voters.

The City Council should quickly pass this bill. The voters of Baltimore have already spoken.

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Toby Ditz, Baltimore

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