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Politics

Anne Arundel voters could decide new campaign finance system with general election ballot question

A campaign finance system that would give some candidates the option of receiving government funding if they accept small donations could be coming to Anne Arundel County.

A coalition of state and local voter groups announced Monday it had delivered a petition with more than 11,000 signatures from county residents — a thousand more than required — to the Anne Arundel County Elections Board to add a question about the proposed charter amendment on the November general election ballot.

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If the question were to pass it would create an optional campaign finance system for candidates for county executive and County Council who could opt to raise money through local small-dollar donors with each donation matched by county government funding. Other jurisdictions, including Baltimore City and Baltimore, Howard and Prince George’s counties, have implemented similar systems. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan used the state’s small donor system in 2014 to win his first gubernatorial election.

The county elections board received the petition last week and began counting and verifying the signatures Tuesday, said David Garreis, Anne Arundel County Board of Elections director. Charter amendments proposed by petition require signatures from at least 10,000 registered voters. The process of ensuring that each signature meets state elections standards could take about a week, said Garreis, who estimated verification would be complete by Aug. 9.

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If the petition is verified by the board of elections and the amendment is approved by voters in November, Anne Arundel County would need to establish the financing system by 2026 at the earliest, according to the proposed amendment. The proposal would establish a commission to oversee the system consisting of nine county residents, seven appointed by the County Council and two appointed by the county executive. That commission would be responsible for calculating how much money would be put in a new public election fund for county elective offices that would be administered by the county controller.

Other rules such as caps on donations from big donors, corporations and political action committees would be determined by the county, said Jennifer Mendes Dwyer, deputy executive director for Progressive Maryland, a grassroots advocacy group that helped lead the drive to collect signatures.

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Other groups involved in the effort include the League of Women Voters of Anne Arundel County, Common Cause Maryland and Maryland PIRG.

The County Council is set to meet virtually at 4:30 p.m. Thursday to consider a resolution related to the charter amendment petition. The meeting is a formality meant to acknowledge that the petition meets legal standards, said Council Chair Lisa Rodvien, an Annapolis Democrat.

In February, the County Council narrowly defeated a resolution to put a public campaign finance question on the November ballot. The resolution was supported by the council’s four Democratic members and opposed by the three Republicans. It needed a five-vote supermajority to pass.

After the resolution failed, Pittman said he supported the effort to collect 10,000 signatures to have the question added to the ballot. The question would need a simple majority of votes to pass. Last month, the council approved another ballot question that would extend council term limits by an additional four years.

Pittman, a Democrat who is up for reelection this year, is set to face Republican council member Jessica Haire in November. In February, Haire voted against the resolution that would have put public financing of local elections on the November ballot. Pittman and Haire have raised more than a combined $1.2 million as of the last campaign finance reports filed last month.

“Providing a public financing system for local elections gives popular candidates without access to wealthy donors a fair shot at public service,” Pittman said in a news release. “I applaud all of the coalition partners who did the work to get this amendment on the ballot.”

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Montgomery County has used a small donor system since 2018. Baltimore City, Prince George’s County and Howard County have all enacted their own systems. Baltimore County will have it as an option in the 2026 election.


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