Howard's voter-passed fair elections measure is definitely atop HoCo's "collective priorities"

The core of HoCo County Executive Kittleman's argument for a veto is that public financing of elections allows your tax dollars to be used in support of candidates you don't personally support.  This is a weak, erroneous, and misleading argument in a number of ways, as Progressive HoCo activist Dave Bazell makes clear. For one thing, it was passed by voters. How much more evidence of a "collective priority" does he need?

/By Dave Bazell/ On June 5, 2017, the Howard County Council passed CB30, the Citizens' Election Fund, as mandated by the prior passage of Question A in November 2016.  CB30 provides matching funds to candidates for Howard County Council and County Executive, provided the candidates agree to not accept contributions from large corporations, PACs, Labor Unions and other big money interests.  This is a significant step forward in getting big money out of local politics in Howard County.  It follows on similar success in Montgomery County.

Unfortunately, County Executive Allan Kittleman has stated publicly that he will veto the bill when it reaches his desk.

CB30 is not perfect, and there was significant debate at the final hearing regarding several amendments that were proposed to the original bill.  Some of the debate centered on trying to imagine scenarios where people could game the system and how to close those potential loopholes, though the arguments were not very convincing. Other debate focused on the public financing aspect of the bill--the real heart of the bill, and what was mandated by the passage of Question A--with Council member Greg Fox arguing that we should not require the Howard County Government to finance elections with the hard earned dollars of county residents.  This sentiment was echoed by County Executive Kittleman in his public statement:

"The Council has authorized the funding of campaigns with money collected from taxes, diverting money from our collective priorities of education, public safety, infrastructure improvements and recreational facilities to finance someone’s political ambitions, including candidates that a taxpayer may be diametrically opposed to supporting."

The core of the argument here is that public financing of elections allows your tax dollars to be used in support of candidates you don't personally support.  This is a weak, erroneous, and misleading argument in a number of ways.

First, the creation of the Citizen's Election Fund was mandated by the passage of Question A, which explicitly stated that the system would include "public funding for the campaigns of candidates for county executive, county council or both."  It was, therefore, incumbent upon the County Council to produce a bill including public financing.

While the definition of public funding was not presented in Question A, the general understanding of this term is money provided by the public sector, which is generally acquired from taxes.  This does not preclude funding from other sources such as grants or voluntary contributions, but the reasonable interpretation of the statement must be that the primary source of funding is taxes.  Moreover, Howard County is the wealthiest county in Maryland and the cost of implementing CB30 is estimated to be between $500,000 to $700,000 per year.  This is a tiny fraction of the $1.8 billion FY17 operating budget for the county.

Second, it is misleading, and rather disingenuous, to state that this is "diverting money from our collective priorities" when Question A was passed in a public vote.  What could be a stronger statement of collective priorities than to have an issue placed on a public ballot and have the voters endorse the issue by its passage?  This is exactly how it is supposed to work in our country, and it is exactly how it did work in our county.  For Mr. Kittleman to argue that the passage of Question A, and the subsequent passage of CB30, does not constitute part of our "collective priorities" is to place his political desires above the will of the people.  As with all elected officials, Mr. Kittleman was elected to serve the people, not the other way around.  This misunderstanding is surprisingly widespread these days and needs to be corrected!

Finally, regarding the issue of public funds going to a candidate that someone is "diametrically opposed to supporting," no citizen would argue that public financing of police and fire departments should come solely from voluntary contributions. Just because you disagree with an arrest made by the police, or because the fire department puts out a fire at the house of your political opponent, does not mean you can refuse to have your tax dollars support those functions.  The services support a greater good for the community, everyone benefits by having these services available, and the same is true of public financing of elections.

The passage of the Citizens' Election Fund in Howard County was a major success for the people of the county and will help push forward a more progressive agenda in the county over the next several years. It will reduce the influence of big money in campaigns.  It will increase the diversity of the candidate pool.  It will increase the time candidates have to interact with voters on substantive issues.

All of these are wins for county residents.  The people have spoken and leaders must learn to follow.


Dave Bazell is a Progressive HoCo activist.