Howard County Restores Power to the People
Last November, Howard County voters passed ‘Question A’ to fight back against big-money politics and give power back to the people. And last night, the Howard County Council brought this game-changing reform across the finish line.
The County Council voted 4-1 officially launch Howard County’s citizen-owned election system. The new program – endorsed by Maryland PIRG, Common Cause Maryland, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, NAACP and the Howard County League of Women Voters – will enable candidates for County Council and County Executive to power their campaigns with grassroots support and small donations.
While Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman has threatened to veto the bill, he faces not only a veto-proof majority in the County Council, but also the strong opposition of people in Howard County who support the county’s citizen-owned elections system.
Here's how the new system works: If a candidate for local office in Howard County foregoes large donations from PACs, wealthy special interests and corporations, and instead builds a fundraising network of small donations from local residents, then those contributions would be matched from the citizen-owned election fund. Connecting to the grassroots enables council members and county executives to better channel the will of the people and advance policies that put the public’s interests – not special interests – first. This kind of system will also give everyday voters a greater voice in government and encourage more people to become engaged in the political process.
In addition, because access to deep-pocketed donors is no longer a primary qualification for public office, Howard County’s citizen-owned election system will empower a more diverse group of citizens to step forward, run for office and serve their communities. This will bring an infusion of new energy and ideas into government, and make it more representative of the people of Howard County.
The benefits of citizen-owned elections don’t stop at the county’s border. Like Montgomery County’s clean-elections system, Howard County’s proposal can become a model for the rest of the nation – inspiring cities, counties and states to pursue reform. And if we can bring clean elections to more jurisdictions across America, then we can build momentum for federal reform too.
In Congress, I authored and introduced the Government By the People Act (H.R. 20), a bipartisan bill with more than 150 cosponsors and backed by more than 50 national membership organizations. H.R. 20 would help reduce the power of wealthy special interests in Washington and return power back to the American people – where it belongs – by implementing a citizen-owned election system similar to the proposal in Howard County. In today’s political climate, the Government By the People Act faces several hurdles. But having examples to showcase, like the system being developed in Howard County, will help send a powerful message to Members of Congress that citizen-owned elections are a viable and potent antidote to the ills of big-money politics.
Across the country, Americans of all political stripes have vented their frustration with the corrosive nature of big money in politics and with the undue influence that wealthy and well-connected donors have over our government. Last night, Howard County took an extraordinary step forward in leading the charge for citizen-owned elections and returning to government of, by and for the people.
John P. Sarbanes
Maryland's Third Congressional District