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Public Financing for Campaigns Debated

A bill to provide public funding to Maryland candidates for their campaigns will be debated on the Senate floor today, a victory for advocates who lobbied hard to get the measure out of committee this week.

The goal is to make politicians less obligated to deep-pocketed campaign contributors by offering candidates money for their run for office. Supporters said they found new momentum last week after the release of secret FBI recordings in the coming corruption trial of former state senator Thomas L. Bromwell. The Baltimore County Democrat is accused of steering telecommunications legislation to help donors.

"Bromwell -- for many years the Senate's second-most-powerful member -- reveals a culture of extreme coziness with big corporate special interests," said Sean Dobson, acting director of Progressive Maryland, a nonpartisan watchdog group that has made public funding its priority for this legislative session. "Lawmakers need to prove they are not beholden to deep-pocket special interests."

Only General Assembly campaigns would be publicly financed, and candidates would not be forced to choose the public option. Candidates would have to raise $6,750 in seed money to qualify for up to $50,000 for a Senate race or $40,000 for a House of Delegates run. The change could cost the state $500,000 a year. Taxpayers could donate $5 on their income tax returns to help pay for the financing.

The measure passed the House last year but stalled in a Senate committee. The House has not taken up its version and is apparently watching for Senate action.

But the bill's sponsor, Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George's), said yesterday that he was warned by Senate leaders that the bill might be in trouble and might not get a floor vote today. It could be referred indefinitely to committee.

-- Lisa Rein

By Phyllis Jordan  |  March 30, 2007; 9:31 AM ET
Categories:  General Assembly  
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great idea. I love the notion of some of Mr. Dobson's tax dollars being used for "The Wig Man's" attack ads in the next election and Don Schaeffer using Mr. Dobson's tax dollars to defend against those attacks. Robin Flicker can avoid having to waste his own money to run and can use Mr/ Dobson's tax dollars to take his message board rants to a much bigger audience.

This will definitly be fun.

Posted by: fun fun | March 30, 2007 11:15 AM | Report abuse

I love how people are always arguing that some wignut is going to abuse the system. In a time when we can't even get half of the people to vote, you really think tons of idiots are going to go through all the paperwork, risk the criminal prosecution and legal fees defrauding the government so publicly. Three other states have public financing and countless municipalities all around the country and they haven't really had a problem. Americans want to end the money race, which now seems to be the dominant criteria for viability rather than ideas or conviction. Public financing will return us to the days of the citizen-politician, and we can free up the majority of the time of our elected officials to spend solving our many issues and problems.

Posted by: RCD | March 30, 2007 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Fun Fun before you write a rant from the right know the facts. One the money from this program does not come from tax dollars it comes from the states sale of unclaimed property. Two as was already pointed out this program is already in place in Maine and Arizona and because there are qualifications in which you have to pass to get the money not just any crazy person off the street can use the funding. But hey you arent going to listen to what I am saying because all the right can do is use political rhetoric instead of looking at policy. So write another paragraph that uses the word tax dollars a bunch of times trying to frighten the public.

Posted by: Same Old Story | March 30, 2007 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Same Old,

I agree with you on all counts but one; I think the money comes from voluntary contributions. You know the little corner of your tax return where you can choose to give the $5 or not? So right wing alarmists are even more wrong.

My problem is that I think public financing is only part of the solution. It won't keep sleeze bags like Bromwell from raking in millions in campaign $$$ and spending them however they see fit. Nor will it keep them from kicking back state contracts to their cronies or from securing jobs for their cronies wives (see Nancy Grasmick).

Until we get serious about individual contribution amounts and corporate PAC soft money there will still be Bromwells out there.

Posted by: Larry Bud | April 2, 2007 7:21 AM | Report abuse

I understand that only people who check the box on their tax forms have the money going to public financing of campaigns but even still that is tax money that ISN'T going to something else.

And look at the presidential campaigns, the limits there are so unrealistically low for running a modern campaign that a Hillary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani can raise the total amount they would be able to spend on their campaign in a single month, so no serious presidential campaign is using public financing and we have the same issue with them collecting money from people with an interest in the outcome - which, again, I have to wonder why that is so bad. We ALL have an interest in the outcome - because of our business' future prosperity because of our personal beliefs about what is important in any given policy area, because we like they way they cut their hair, whatever.....

Giving every candidate who wants to put their name on the ballot the same amount of money and saying that eliminates special interests is silly (which, by the way, is everyone. Whether you are on the corporate side or labor side, you are a special interest. Whether you are an advocate for breast cancer research or dung beetle research, for funding for more military spending or more spending on solar energy, all of these are "special interests"). Silly because those same groups will still influence the process, either because candidates opt out of public financing and still get campaign contriutions or because they lobby the politician without having to give campaign contributions.

Unless you only want people like Mike Bloomberg in office, then you will always have money influencing the process. And since Mike Bloomberg may be a benelovent despot, I would still like to see the occassional car mechanic or school teacher or nurse able to be in office and offer a real world perspective.

Posted by: fun fun | April 2, 2007 11:12 AM | Report abuse

If you look at the current bill that is up for debate in the Senate the funding does not come from voluntary opting in from tax payers it comes from a fund that the state has from the sale of abandonded property. It is a totally different discussion when you bring the Presidential Race into it. This bill would work bottom line.

Posted by: Same Old Story | April 3, 2007 5:46 PM | Report abuse

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