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Publicly Financed Campaigns Coming To Baltimore County

John Lee

Baltimore County voters have approved a charter amendment allowing public money to be used to fund election campaigns in county races.

The charter amendment, which was Question A on the Baltimore County ballot, got more than 55% of the votes cast. 

Starting in 2026, candidates for county council and county executive will have the option to tap the fund.

The details of how that will work are now up to the Baltimore County Council.

Emily Scarr, director of the advocacy group Maryland PIRG, said the county council will decide things like who can qualify, and how much money they can get. For instance, candidates who agree to not take big checks from the likes of lobbyists and PACs could qualify for matching funds for the small donations they receive from county residents.

“The fight is just beginning, not ending, as we work to make sure the county council does what the voters of Baltimore County have asked for and that’s finalize their small donor financing program,” she said.

Scarr said Maryland PIRG will make recommendations to the county council on what it would like to see in the legislation that will establish the fund. She said Maryland PIRG would like to see the council take action by spring.

“The county council has all the authority they need to finalize the program, so we would encourage them to move quickly to do so,” Scarr said.

A commission also will be appointed to oversee the fund. Seven of its nine members will be appointed by the county council. The other two will be chosen by the county executive.

In 2018, County Executive Johnny Olszewski campaigned on the issue of publicly funding elections and introduced the charter amendment in 2019 soon after he took office. Olszewski said the election fund will lead to a more diverse field of candidates.

“I fervently believe that the volume of someone’s voice shouldn’t be dependent upon the size of their pockets,” Olszewski said.

Olszewski himself has some deep pockets. His most recent campaign finance report, filed in January, showed a balance of more than $900,000. In 2018, the three Democratic candidates running for county executive, including Olszewski, each raised more than $1 million.

Opponents had argued tax money should not be used to fund campaigns.

Baltimore City, and Howard, Prince Georges and Montgomery counties have similar election funds.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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