The Republican nominee for Montgomery County executive is challenging state and county elections officials in court after his request for funds under the county’s new public campaign financing system was denied.
Robin Ficker, a lawyer who was unopposed for the GOP nomination, said he filed the suit in Montgomery County Circuit Court after hearing from the State Board of Elections that he did not qualify for county campaign funds, which are being offered to candidates for the first time this year.
The system requires candidates to qualify by raising a minimum amount of money in small donations from a certain number of county residents. Ficker said he raised more than the $40,000 from 500 residents required of county executive candidates by the May 12 deadline but encountered problems entering the data into the state’s website.
He also said he had been under the impression that he had more time to qualify for the funds, since he had no challenger in the primary, and said he followed all the guidance on submitting receipts in the proper form.
But on June 5, he received an email from Jared DeMarinis, director of the division of candidacy and campaign finance for the State Board of Elections, informing him that his campaign committee did not get the “requisite number and amount of qualifying contributions.”
Ficker — a former state delegate who has run for various offices more than a dozen times — filed suit 10 days later. DeMarinis and David Crow, fiscal projects manager for Montgomery’s Department of Finance, were named as defendants.
The suit requests an expedited hearing and asks that a judge order DeMarinis to review Ficker’s application for public funds.
In a June 25 answer to the lawsuit, Associate County Attorney Taggart Hutchinson and Maryland Assistant Attorney General Andrea Trento requested Ficker’s suit be dismissed or decided in favor of the government.
Trento and Hutchinson declined to speak about the case, saying — through a spokesperson in Trento’s case — that they could not comment on active litigation.
Ficker says he’s in legal limbo now — he is choosing to bind himself to the rules of public financing, which keep a candidate from spending more than $12,000 of his or her own money on the campaign, but he’s not able to get the public dollars.
“We can’t get the matching funds, and we can’t spend our own money. We’re thwarted until [a judge] makes a decision,” he said.
This year is the first when the public campaign finance system has been in use in Montgomery, the state’s most populous jurisdiction. The program, passed by the County Council in 2014, matches each donated dollar with $2 to $6 in public funds.
Candidates who sought matching funds could receive only donations of up to $150 from county residents, and they could not take money from corporations, unions or other groups.
Three of the six Democrats who ran for executive in the county used the system, including at-large council member Marc Elrich, who has a narrow lead over businessman David Blair with some absentee and provisional ballots still to be counted. Blair self-funded his campaign.
Ficker was one of three Republicans running for county offices in the June 26 primary who sought public funding. Only Ed Amatetti, who ran for the District 2 council seat, qualified.