By Glynis Kazanjian
Montgomery County candidates and voters are taking more notice of the source of campaign funds in the first election where public financing is an option.
Former County Councilmember Phil Andrews, the architect of the public campaign financing program for county council and county executive races, said he believes some voters will favor candidates using the public financing system.
Candidates who use public financing may not accept contributions from PACs, unions, corporations or political committees.
Andrews’ theory could play out in County Council District 5 where incumbent Tom Hucker — who is using traditional financing — is facing off against Democratic challenger Kevin Harris, who opted for public financing. Harris points to public financing as evidence he is free from special interests, while Hucker is relying on endorsements from progressive groups and his record on planning issues to show voters where he stands.
Harris challenging Hucker
In a council district race, a public financing candidate must collect at least 125 qualifying contributions that total $10,000 in aggregate.
Harris said he collected over $12,000 from 176 donors. If approved, he could qualify to receive up to $125,000 in matching county funds. Qualified contributions for County Council races – at-large or district – match $4 for every dollar of the first $50 raised, $3 for every dollar of the second $50 raised and $2 for every dollar thereafter.
“The voters of District 5 spoke clearly in the last election when they voted overwhelming for term limits sending a message that Montgomery County needs new leadership,” Harris stated. “I’m ready to bring integrity to the Council by being free of influence of special interests. I will not accept contributions from developers or their representatives. The endorsement that matters most to me is from the voters when they enter the voting booth this June.
“In addition, unlike the incumbent, I pledge not to collect any outside income other than my Council salary.”
Harris is referring to Hucker’s position at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy organization in Washington, D.C.
As a councilmember, Hucker made $120,825 in 2016, according to a county employee website. The council job is deemed a full-time position.
Hucker said he works “very part-time” on safer food issues for NRDC and that his job there – which he says he’s had since he was a state delegate – is regularly reported on ethics forms and very noticeable on his LinkedIn page and Facebook account.
Free of special interest influence, Hucker says
He also says is “clearly” free of special interest influence.
“My record demonstrates clearly that I am very much free of special interest influence,” Hucker said. “On development issues I specifically voted to raise the fees on developers in the subdivision staging policy…on the school impact tax…and the transportation impact tax.
“In the White Oak sector plan I voted to raise the per trip fee the developer had to pay. I passed a stand alone bill to save Koiner Farm from development. In fact, I just did a mailing that quotes the farm owner saying, ‘Tom Hucker saved our farm from developers.’ My consistent voting record of standing up to special interests is the reason I have been endorsed by Progressive Neighbors, Progressive Maryland, the Sierra Club, Green Dems, Jews United for Justice and two dozen progressive organizations that are supposed to protect the county public interest from special interests.”
Another race to watch that pits a public funding candidate against a traditional financing candidate is already playing out in County Council District 3.
Incumbent Sidney Katz — who is using public financing — is facing off against newcomer Ben Shnider, a traditional financing candidate. Both have received a fair number of group endorsements.
Candidates must collect between 125 and 500 qualifying contributions totaling between $10,000 and $40,000 in aggregate to qualify, depending on which county race they run in. Upon approval, candidates are eligible to receive between $125,000 and $750,000 in county-financed funds.
Financing to be decided by May 30
Right now, four candidates are waiting to hear if they will qualify for public campaign financing in the Montgomery County county executive and county council races.
So far, 20 candidates out of 38 seeking qualification for the county’s new matching funds program have been approved, and the deadline has passed for new applications.
The State Board of Elections has 10 business days from the May 15 deadline to determine whether the four outstanding candidates – Robin Ficker, R, County Executive, Lorna Phillips-Forde, D, County Council At-Large, Jim McGee, D, Council District 1 and Kevin Harris, D, Council District 5 – will qualify based on their application submissions. Then there could possibly be further consideration if any rejected candidates want to make minor amendments to qualify.
“We might know as early as May 30,” Montgomery County Director of Finance David Crow said.
Crow said candidates who do not initially qualify may receive 10 business days to “cure” their submitted application through an amended report. That report cannot include new contributions, but they may report contributions previously collected that are needed to make up for a disqualification. Administrative errors may also be corrected.
Candidates who signed up for public financing, but didn’t apply for certification by the deadline, include County Council At-Large candidates: Rosemary Arkoian, Craig Carozza-Caviness, Richard Gottfried, Neil Greenberger, Melissa McKenna and Darwin Romero and County Council District 1 candidates Bill Cook, Richard Banach and Kenge Malikidogo-Fludd.
Five candidates who did apply for the program, but didn’t qualify – largely due to application errors or misunderstanding the complicated application process – include at-large candidates Shruti Bhatnagar, Loretta Garcia, Paul Geller, Michele Riley and Tim Willard.
Candidates who don’t qualify may use the funds they’ve collected toward traditional financing.
For a full list of Montgomery County candidates, see Maryland Reporter’s candidate’s list.
Early voting begins June 14. The primary election is June 26.
Voters will begin receiving sample ballots in the mail this week from the Montgomery County Board of Elections.
Ballots will include the name of gubernatorial candidate Kevin Kamenetz, who passed away unexpectedly last week. State election officials said it was too late in the process to reprint the ballots. Kamenetz’ running mate, Valerie Ervin, will now be at the top of the ticket. Ervin chose Marisol Johnson as her running mate.