College Park Town Hall Meeting Advocates Small Donor Funded Elections

By Madison Brewer

The City of College Park held a town hall meeting on Thursday, Sept. 28 to discuss the benefits of small donor-funded elections and getting big money out of politics.

The meeting featured Congresswoman Donna Edwards, Prince George’s County Councilmember Mary Lehman and former Montgomery County Representative Phil Andrews to talk about the benefits of small donor-funded elections.

Edwards, a congresswoman for Maryland’s 4th District from 2008-2017, talked about the importance of coming together as a community to insight change in local elections.

“The beauty of small donor financing and public financing is that we get to be the ones in charge,” she said.

Edwards explained that being a publicly financed candidate means having small donor contributions, allowing the candidate to have more time with constituents instead of spending hours on the phone with big corporations and donors.

Mary Lehman, County Councilwoman for Prince George’s County, spoke of her recent campaign experience running without public funding and as an outsider who had never run for a local elected office before.

Lehman addressed her campaign expenses and was upfront about having to get loans in order to fund her campaign. “I had a feeling I was gonna have trouble fundraising because the idea of asking people for money was just tragic for me,” Lehman said.

Lehman decided to start her campaign fundraising with a loan of a couple thousand dollars, then another loan of $8,000 to $9,000 and a third loan of $10,000.

Lehman ended up raising about $40,000, but half of it came from her own pocket. She also noted that almost all of her donors were individuals. A handful of the donations came from small businesses.

At the end of her speech, Lehman made a pledge: “I want to make this commitment now, publically, to all of you and to all county residents, to pass a public financing bill in 2018… I know that it will encourage more grassroots campaigns and I think people of more modest means will be encouraged to run. And ultimately that means you will have candidates that don’t really owe anything specific to anyone,” Lehman said.

Lehman made it clear that even if the bill was passed in 2018, it still would not take effect until 2022, four years later.

If passed, the bill would make it possible for candidates to opt into a small donor-funded election policy, which would allow them to only accept donations from county members of $150 or less; they would not accept any donations from big donors or large corporations.

Speaking on behalf of Montgomery County was Phil Andrews, a former District 3 Montgomery County Councilmember. Montgomery County was the first county in Maryland to implement a small donor matching program for local elections.

Montgomery County’s small donor matching program attempts to empower small donors and incentivize candidates to get those donations.

The program matches the first $50 raised 4:1, so $50 becomes $250. The second $50 by the same donor is matched 3:1, and the third $50 will be matched 2:1. It hopes to incentivize candidates to fund their campaigns through many small donors.

In order to qualify for the public financing program, no donation can be larger than $150, but there is no cap on how much money a candidate can raise.

Andrews is a strong advocate for implementing a small donor matching program in Prince George’s County. “It is is a very good investment, it will not only empower the people, but it will also increase political competition, which you are clearly seeing the result of in Montgomery County, and I will be really surprised if it doesn’t boost voter turnout,” he said.

The speakers all advocated for a bill supporting campaign finance reform and offered anyone to become an ambassador for this cause by joining their Facebook page.

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