Montgomery County’s program of providing the option of public financing for candidates in County elections is one of the most foremost programs of its kind in Maryland. As the next County election looms in 2022, and with campaigns already underway, the County’s Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) has been designated as the place for candidates or residents to direct their questions about the program of matching funds.
The County Council designated OCP as the County’s “Public Election Fund Liaison.” The position was established to assist interested members of the public, applicant candidates, certified candidates and participating candidates with understanding about the program. Questions can be submitted to OCP’s liaison through a new online form specifically designed to provide responses at Public Election Fund Liaison Questions.
Maryland enacted legislation in 2013 that enabled counties to have the option of providing programs of public financing for candidates in local elections. The legislation makes sure that the program is administered by the county Department of Finance but gives each county an opportunity to draft its own criteria to participate.
Montgomery County adopted legislation in 2014 for local elections that was first used during the 2018 election cycle. The County law was most recently amended effective this year to create the “liaison” position to enhance the ability for candidates and the public to receive information about the program and its eligibility requirements.
“Our Office has been educating consumers and merchants for almost 50 years,” said OCP Director Eric Friedman. “Customer service is our middle name, and we look forward to providing information about public campaign financing with the same gusto.”
The Public Election Fund is now open for the 2022 election cycle. Candidates, who are required to be County residents, could be eligible if they are running for the offices of county executive or at-large or district Councilmember.
Even if a candidate is certified for access to the Public Election Fund, they also must also be involved in a contested election to qualify for matching funds. That would be an election in which there are more candidates than actual seats available.
The Public Election Fund was designed to allow candidates from not relying on contributions from political action committees, corporations, labor organizations and central committees. However, it is not mandatory for those seeking covered positions to utilize the fund.
The Public Election Fund provides matching contributions to participating candidates through use of a matching formula, which can be found (2021 Summary Guide) in the Public Election Fund Summary Guide.
The Public Election Fund can provide a maximum matching contribution of $750,000 for a candidate for county executive; $250,000 for a candidate for an at-large position of Councilmember; and $125,000 for a candidate as a district Councilmember. In the 2022 election, voters will choose seven at-large Councilmembers (an increase of two from the current setup) and four district Councilmembers.
The fund matches qualifying contributions, between $5 and $250 (no more than $100 in cash) made from the personal funds of County residents during the four-year election cycle’s qualifying period (period starting on first day of January following the previous election and ending 45 days before the primary election). Montgomery County’s qualifying period for the 2022 election cycle ends on May 14, 2022.
Each position requires a minimum number of qualifying contribution donors and aggregate donation amounts to become certified for matching funds. Those minimums are 500 contributions with an aggregate of $40,000 for county executive; 250 contributions with an aggregate of $20,000 for Council-at large; and 125 contributions with an aggregate of $10,000 for district Council.
For more information about the Montgomery County Public Election Fund, go to https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/OCP/public-election-fund.html.