John Sar­banes: Vote ‘yes’ on Howard County’s Ques­tion A

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By John Sar­banes Rep. John Sar­banes, a Demo­crat, rep­re­sents Mary­land’s 3rd Con­gres­sional Dis­trict. He can be reached at sar­­tact.

Change is com­ing to Howard County. In this era where big money dom­i­nates pol­i­tics at all lev­els, Howard County res­i­dents have a chance to move Mary­land and our coun­try in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion — to­ward a gov­ern­ment truly of, by and for the peo­ple.

A “yes” vote on Ques­tion A will send a pow­er­ful mes­sage that cit­i­zen-owned elec­tions are the new stan­dard of good gov­ern­ment in Howard County. This trans­for­ma­tive bal­lot ini­tia­tive gives small donors a way of com­pet­ing against the big-money in­ter­ests that too of­ten ex­er­cise un­due in­flu­ence over pub­lic pol­icy.

Pro­posed by County Coun­cil mem­bers Jon We­in­stein and Jen Terassa — along­side a di­verse coali­tion of or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing Mary­land PIRG, Com­mon Cause Mary­land, the Mary­land League of Con­ser­va­tion Vot­ers, NAACP and the Howard County League of Women Vot­ers — Ques­tion A will au­tho­rize the Howard County Coun­cil to estab­lish a small­donor-driven sys­tem of fi­nanc­ing cam­paigns.

The plan is sim­ple. If a can­di­date run­ning for lo­cal of­fice opts for small do­na­tions in­stead of large ones, he or she can re­ceive match­ing funds. This new cit­i­zen-owned sys­tem would am­plify the voice and in­flu­ence of reg­u­lar peo­ple in the po­lit­i­cal process. Can­di­dates rais­ing money for their cam­paigns could keep the deep-pock­eted spe­cial in­ter­ests at a dis­tance and turn in­stead to the broad pub­lic. There’s a pol­icy ben­e­fit to that as well. Spend­ing time at a small-donor house party is a much bet­ter way of gaug­ing the needs and pri­or­i­ties of the com­mu­nity than hang­ing out with the big-money crowd.

An­other ben­e­fit of a small-donor­match­ing sys­tem is that it would bring a new, di­verse group of can­di­dates into the po­lit­i­cal arena — peo­ple who right now can­not af­ford to run for of­fice be­cause they don’t know a lot of peo­ple with a lot of money. Em­pow­ered by small do­na­tions and match­ing funds, these as­pir­ing pub­lic ser­vants could run, com­pete and win, bring­ing a new and ex­cit­ing en­ergy to our pol­i­tics and gov­ern­ment.

The his­toric op­por­tu­nity of Ques­tion A does not stop at the bor­der of Howard County. A “Yes” vote on Ques­tion A will strengthen the na­tional move­ment to build new sys­tems of fund­ing cam­paigns that put ev­ery­day cit­i­zens back in charge. As a cham­pion of this ef­fort in Congress, I have trav­eled to places all over the coun­try where peo­ple are choos­ing to fight the in­flu­ence of big money — not by get­ting mad, but by get­ting even. Cit­i­zen-owned elec­tion sys­tems are al­ready up and run­ning in Ari­zona, Con­necti­cut and New York City, just to name a few. A year ago, vot­ers in Maine and Seat­tle showed the prom­ise of the Howard County ap­proach by pass­ing bal­lot ini­tia­tives that em­power small donors.

If we can keep win­ning these fights at the state and lo­cal level, then one day soon the same change is go­ing to come to Congress. That’s why I in­tro­duced the bi­par­ti­san Gov­ern­ment By the Peo­ple Act (H.R. 20), which has more than 160 co-spon­sors in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and the sup­port of over 50 na­tional mem­ber­ship or­ga­ni­za­tions ad­vo­cat­ing for the en­vi­ron­ment, ed­u­ca­tion, work­ing fam­i­lies, civil rights, clean gov­ern­ment and more. Much work re­mains be­fore we achieve pas­sage of the Gov­ern­ment By the Peo­ple Act. But a “yes” vote on Ques­tion A in Howard County, a stone’s throw from the na­tion’s cap­i­tal, would send a pow­er­ful sig­nal to my col­leagues on the Hill that re­form­ing the way we fund cam­paigns is a win­ning is­sue — an an­ti­dote to the deep cyn­i­cism and frus­tra­tion felt by so many Amer­i­cans.

Cit­i­zen-owned elec­tions flip the script on big money in pol­i­tics. We can re­store ev­ery­day cit­i­zens to their right­ful place at the cen­ter of Amer­i­can democ­racy. We can make elec­tions about the strong­est ideas, not about the deep­est bank ac­count.

Howard County has al­ways been in the van­guard of civic en­gage­ment and good gov­ern­ment. A “yes” vote on Ques­tion A will fur­ther ce­ment that proud legacy.

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