November 15, 2021 Baltimore County
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski today announced that he will introduce legislation to create Baltimore County’s first public financing system for candidates for County Council and County Executive, beginning with the 2026 election cycle.
Establishing a Fair Election Fund is a key priority for County Executive Olszewski, who called for a public financing option for local elections for years before taking office.
As his first legislative priority as County Executive, Olszewski proposed a package of reforms to improve accountability in County government and strengthen ethical standards, including a proposed charter amendment to create a system for public financing for candidates.
The Charter amendment passed the County Council with bipartisan support in 2019 and was overwhelmingly approved by voters during the 2020 election.
“Money should never be a barrier to running for office. The Baltimore County Fair Election Fund will empower a more diverse group of candidates, limit the influence of special interests, and strengthen our local elections for years to come,” Olszewski said. “This legislation has been years in the making and I thank all those who have helped Baltimore County take our next steps to ensure our government remains more open, accessible and connected than ever before.”
In March 2021, Olszewski created the bipartisan Fair Election Fund Work Group to propose recommendations for Baltimore County’s Fair Election Fund system. The Work Group issued their final report earlier this fall, and the proposed legislation reflects the group’s recommendations.
“I am looking forward to the implementation of the Fair Election Fund, which will level the playing field and give more citizens an equal opportunity to run for public office,” Council Chairman Julian Jones said.
"This legislation helps implements the ballot initiative supported by tens of thousands of Baltimore Countians from all parties and persuasions,” County Councilman David Marks said. “We all benefit when there is a robust exchange of ideas in the political arena."
Fair Election Fund Details
Consistent with the Fair Election Fund Work Group’s recommendations, the legislation proposed by Olszewski would create a Fair Election Fund system that would:
For County Executive and County Council candidates:
- Set a maximum individual contribution limit of $250 for candidates participating in the Fair Election Fund system.
- Require contributors to be Baltimore County residents in order for contributions to qualify towards the threshold required to receive matching funds.
- Set a limit of up to $12,000 in funds that can be contributed directly by the candidate, their spouse, or adult members of their immediate family for candidates participating in the Fair Election Fund system.
- Create a tiered matching fund system to incentivize small dollar contributions for candidates.
For County Executive candidates:
- Set a threshold of at least $40,000 in qualifying contributions from at least 500 contributors before allowing access to matching funds from the Fair Election fund.
- Place a limit of $750,000 in total matching funds per election.
For County Council candidates:
- Set a threshold of at least $10,000 in qualifying contributions from at least 125 contributors before allowing access to matching funds from the Fair Election fund.
- Place a limit of $80,000 in total matching funds per election.
Fair Election Commission Details
Additionally, the proposed legislation would establish a Fair Election Fund Commission consisting of nine county residents who would make recommendations to the County to ensure the fund is solvent ahead of each election cycle.
To be eligible to serve on the Fair Election Fund Commission, individuals must not be:
- A candidate for public office in the previous, current, or next election cycle
- A Chair or Treasurer of an open campaign account
- An elected or appointed member of a local or State central committee of a political party
- A lobbyist registered with the County or the State
Seven individuals would be nominated by the County Council — one from each Councilmanic District — and two individuals would be appointed by the County Executive. Appointees would serve four-year terms beginning on May 1 of each year following a midterm election year (2027, 2031, etc.).
The Commission will be responsible for estimating the amount of funding needed during the upcoming election cycle, and shall make annual recommendations to the County Executive on the level of appropriations needed in each forthcoming budget.
The proposed legislation will be introduced at the County Council meeting on Monday, November 15.