A top aide to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) is calling on political parties to assist in fundraising to replenish the state’s public campaign financing fund, which helped vault Hogan to victory in the heavily blue state.
Adam Dubitsky, Hogan’s policy director, told attendees at a University of Maryland forum on money in politics on Thursday that Hogan’s publicly funded gubernatorial run showed a rare example of campaign-finance reform in action..
Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), who also appeared on the panel, called for more aggressive reform on the federal level, touting his long-shot plan to offer tax credits to smaller donors to political campaigns and to match their contributions by a 6-1 margin.
Large majorities of Marylanders, across party lines, say politicians are too influenced by campaign cash and support stricter limits on campaign spending, a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll shows.
More than eight in 10 believe too much money is spent in on political campaigns, and over seven in 10 say wealthy Americans have more of a chance to influence elections than others. Similar majorities say the government should be able to limit campaign donations from individuals, corporations and unions.
Hogan last year became the first governor in Maryland history to win using public funds, electing to take nearly $3 million from the state instead of trying to compete with the fundraising might of Democratic nominee and establishment favorite Anthony G. Brown, then the state’s lieutenant governor.
Once in office, Hogan signed legislation restoring a checkoff box on state tax forms for residents to voluntarily donate to replenish the depleted public campaign fund.
“What public financing will do is enable you to get on the field,” said Dubitsky, who was Hogan’s campaign spokesman. “If you don’t have any money, public financing looks a lot more attractive.”
The Post-U.Md. poll found tepid support for Maryland’s public financing system, with 44 percent in favor and 25 percent opposed; nearly one-third have no opinion. Support for public financing dips to 40 percent among Republicans, even though it helped Hogan’s campaign.
Among poll respondents who said money has too much influence in politics, nearly 6 in 10 said it was an extremely important problem for the country.
Sarbanes, who is outspoken on campaign finance issues, and former U.S. Reps. Connie Morella (R-Md.) and Tom McMillen (D-Md.) told forum attendees that the demands of fundraising in Congress reduces time spent on policy and distances lawmakers from the constituents they represent.
“It doesn’t belong to you. You don’t own the government,” said Sarbanes. “Government is owned by who writes the check. Who do you think gets the meetings?”
Marylanders are split on whether they are more concerned about volume or transparency in contributions: 48 percent say the bigger problem is the ability of donors to spend money without making donations public, while 44 percent were more concerned about unlimited funds infusing campaigns.
Dubitsky said the success so far of Ben Carson and Donald Trump in the GOP presidential primary race suggests frustrations over the influence of money in politics extends to Republicans nationally.
“Regardless of what you think of either one of those candidates or their ideology, the fact of the matter is outsiders who haven’t held office are doing extraordinarily well,” he said. “They are changing the debate.”
The Washington Post-University of Maryland poll was conducted Oct. 8-11 among a random sample of 1,006 adult residents of Maryland, including land-line and cellphone respondents. Full results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.