TOWSON, Md. (WJZ) — Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. on Monday announced plans to introduce legislation creating a public financing system for candidates seeking elected office, starting with the 2026 election cycle.

In 2019, Olszewski proposed a charter amendment to create public financing for candidates as part of a package of ethical reforms.

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The Baltimore County Council approved the measure, placing a question on the 2020 ballot. Voters approved Question A by a 57%-43% margin.

“We know that fair, competitive elections are good for democracy, they make our communities stronger,” Olszewski said during a press briefing Monday. “But for far too many people, the cost of running for office has been far too high and has been a barrier much too large.”

In March 2021, Olszewski created a work group to study similar campaign financing systems around the country and provide recommendations for establishing one in the county.

Under the legislation, candidates for council and executive could only contribute $12,000 to their own campaigns or receive that amount from immediate family members and spouses.

Individual contributions would be capped at $250 and would have to come from Baltimore County residents to meet the threshold to receive matching public funds.

The fund matches contributions in tiers to incentivize small grassroots donations. As the dollar amount of a donation goes up, the matching amount goes down, Olszewski said.

Candidates for council have to collect $10,000 in contributions from at least 125 donors to receive matching funds, which are limited to $80,000 per election.

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Candidates for county executive have to fundraise $40,000 from at least 400 donors, and they are limited to $750,000 per election.

Matching funds for both offices are phased out after the first $150 in each contribution, Olszewski said.

The bill also creates a Fair Election Fund Commission, comprised of nine residents, to make sure the public campaign fund is solvent before each election cycle.

Seven residents will be nominated by the council — one from each councilmanic district — and two would be appointed by the county executive. Members would serve four-year terms starting May 1 of each year following a midterm election.

Olszewski’s legislation will be introduced at the Monday night’s council meeting.

Councilman David Marks, a Republican, said public funding would provide a platform for smaller parties and underfunded candidates, pointing to Gov. Larry Hogan’s longshot win in 2014 that utilized public financing.

Councilman Julian E. Jones Jr., chairman of the work group, said the program will give residents more choices and help candidates get their message to the voters.

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“This fund will provide the resources so that the citizens will be able to adequately hear the positions of the candidates, and then make the proper decision, which will enable us to have the best elected officials we can here in Baltimore County, providing the best service to the citizens,” he said.

CBS Baltimore Staff