On public campaign financing…

Below is an e-mail I have sent to members of the Montgomery County Council urging them to pass Phil Andrews’ public campaign financing bill and recommending that they remove an amendment that would not serve the County well.

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Dear [Councilmember],

I wanted to take a minute to thank you for hearing my comments on the Right to Vote Task Force report on Tuesday night, and once again to strongly encourage you to pass Bill 16-14 on Public Campaign Financing of Elections next week.

I am writing to you as an individual member of the Rockville City Council (and silver medalist in the most recent County Council primary election) and not on behalf of the City of Rockville.

I am alarmed by the amendment that has been added in committee to Bill 16-14 that would match contributions raised outside Montgomery County. As a policymaker and as a Montgomery County taxpayer, I believe such a provision to be inappropriate. It is also unlikely to help those it is designed to help.

From a policy perspective, such a match defeats what I see as the best purpose of the bill – to force candidates to focus their communications efforts on Montgomery County voters. It is enough for the law to allow unmatched $150 contributions from outside the County – that way, if a candidate has a deep network of contributors who live outside Montgomery County, she or he can still tap that resource and participate in the system. But candidates’ main focus should be communicating with voters squarely within our borders.

My concerns as a County taxpayer are equally serious. Say a candidate raises most of her funds from contributors in DC and Virginia. Why should my tax dollars be working to vastly amplify the voices of these outsiders, whose interests may not align well with the County’s?

Aside from these concerns, the outside-the-County match would be ineffective in the stated purpose of the amendment: Helping launch the campaign of a candidate whose family and friend network lies outside Montgomery County. A candidate can tap her out-of-County network as hard as she likes, but because matching funds are paid to candidates only after they have qualified for the program with sufficient local contributions, a match of outside-the-County contributions would come far too late to help a candidate get her campaign off the ground. Once you’ve raised enough local dollars to qualify for matching funds, your campaign is pretty-well launched, whether or not you have outside money as well. At that point, the matching funds paid on outside-the-County contributions just serve to dilute the contributions of Montgomery County residents.

I appreciate your attention to the devils that lie in the details of this bill, and urge you to pay close attention to this one. Matching contributions from outside Montgomery County undermines the purpose of the law, it uses Montgomery County taxpayer money to dilute the influence of Montgomery County voters, and it doesn’t actually help a candidate with an outside-the-County fundraising network get his or her campaign off the ground. Limiting the total out-of-County match to 10% of public funds makes this bad idea better, but just slightly. The idea of matching outside-the-County contributions should be scrapped altogether.

Thank you.

All the best,

Tom Moore
Councilmember
City of Rockville