A small donor fair elections program can get big money out of Prince George's politics

It is more important than ever to pay for a government that is solely accountable to the everyday community members they are elected to represent. Eventually, everyone expects to “get what you pay for.”

 Find out more at Prince George's County Fair Elections Town Hall Meeting 6:30-8:30 p.m. (doors open at 6) Southern Regional Technology and Recreation Complex, 7007 Bock Road in Fort Washington, MD 20744 -- Join Fair Elections Maryland and Councilmembers Obie Patterson (D-8), Mary Lehman (D-1) and Mel Franklin (D-9) and guest experts for a Prince George's County Town Hall! RSVP here.

/By Charles Smith/ There is an old saying “you get what you pay for.”  Often, it communicates that the quality of what you buy corresponds to amount of money you spent to get it. However, in the realm of elections the question becomes, what does a campaign contributor get for the money they spent to get the official elected? Although everyone still pays for the official’s salary through taxes; the added value for contributors’ campaign contributions must be significant if they will continue to shell out hundreds to thousands of dollars regularly.

us_money.jpg Late last week we had an unfortunate reminder of the problems created by our current campaign financing system. Under the auspices of Tax Reform, the Republican controlled U.S. Senate gave their donors the gift they have been promising for years. Everyone not already in the wealthy 1% economic class will feel the impact of this slapdash, handwritten legislation. While much effort will be needed to correct what has been done, we must focus on the areas that have the most impact on our day to day lives. We need to make sure our state, county, and local governments are accountable to us and not just to the donors who currently fund their campaigns. We need to make sure the programs and systems implemented by our local levels of government work to preserve and improve the quality of life for everyone in our communities. One way to do this is reforming how campaigns are funded.

  In the 2014 election, the average winning Prince George's council candidate spent nearly $60,000 and the County Executive spent $1.5 million. The vast majority of those contributions – more than 80% -- came from wealthy donors, who donated more than $150. In 2018, we will also have 2 additional At Large council seats. When our elected officials seek re-election or another office, will their donors “get what they pay for?” If they feel their contributions don’t have a direct benefit, would they help them fund a future campaign? This mutual expectations game pollutes our governance.ballot_box.jpg

What can we do to turn this around? By creating a small donor matching program, we can give candidates who want to represent us in county government the opportunity to decide who they want to fund their campaign. They can chose the traditional campaign route, where the majority of their donations come from a small group of wealthy donors, PACs, corporations, and other special interests. The other option could be for them to reach out solely to members of their community who would be the same folks who they would need to show up Election Day to vote.  In this scenario, no matter who the community member is the most they could give the candidate is $150. However, even if the community member can only give $5 that could be equivalent to a donation of $25. By getting funds from more people they demonstrate their legitimacy as a candidate versus getting large sums from a small group.

 It is more important than ever to pay for a government that is solely accountable to the everyday community members they are elected to represent. Eventually, everyone expects to “get what you pay for.”

 

Find out more THIS THURSDAY (Dec. 7) at Prince George's County Fair Elections Town Hall Meeting 6:30-8:30 p.m. (doors open at 6) Southern Regional Technology and Recreation Complex, 7007 Bock Road in Fort Washington, MD 20744 -- Join Fair Elections Maryland and Councilmembers Obie Patterson (D-8), Mary Lehman (D-1) and Mel Franklin (D-9) and guest experts for a Prince George's County Town Hall! RSVP here.

 Right now four of our nine county council members are willing to help create this shift in accountability. In January legislation will be presented to create a small donor matching program. However, additional support is still needed. Sign the petition here or contact your county council member to encourage them to support. For more information, please download our factsheet or visit our coalition website.


 Charles Smith is Progressive Prince George’s Fair Elections Organizing Fellow.