Howard County is not currently releasing funds from Citizens’ Election Fund to candidates that have qualified

There is a lot to all of this…but the bottom line is funds from the Citizens’ Election Fund (CEF) is not currently being released to candidates due to a “technical issue in the CEF legislation enacted by the prior Council in 2017”. Specifically this currently affects Councilmember Deb Jung who has already qualified for the program for her reelection campaign in 2022.

I am going to share some information, statements…and videos from a CEF Commission meeting.

Information from Deb Jung on December 10th:

Public Funding of Elections In Howard County Under Siege

Today, I must report with outrage and disappointment that the will of Howard County residents is being thwarted by the Calvin Ball Administration, which has suddenly decided to withhold matching funds from Citizens’ Election Fund (CEF) candidates. With this decision, big money wins, special interests win, and voters lose.

After fully qualifying for matching funds and being deemed eligible by the State Board of Elections for a CEF distribution, the Director of Finance informed my Campaign Chair at the close of business on Friday, January 4th, that he is ignoring the State’s approval and denying County matching funds. The reason given is his interpretation that there is a technical issue in the CEF legislation enacted by the prior Council in 2017 that prevents distribution to qualifying primary candidates. Importantly, the CEF Commission has never suggested that disbursements should be denied because of this technical issue.  

He stated that funds could be disbursed once a corrective bill is passed through the Council. Such legislation has been filed (CB6), but even if it passes, the earliest disbursements could occur is April 10th because of the effective date requirements of legislation. This is almost halfway through the primary season and a serious impediment for a contested primary election such as my own. The primary date is June 28 with early voting starting on June 16. At stake to date is approximately $43,827 in State approved matching funds and another $2,875 still being processed, for a total of $46,702 matching funds requested so far. The Director of Finance’s decision to withhold funds appears to be inconsistent with his CEF Bureau Chief who only last Tuesday, January 4th wrote to the State Board of Elections asking to confirm that the District 4 election was contested for purposes of making a distribution. Less than an hour later, the State Board of Elections responded: “This election is now contested. A distribution may occur according to the County Code.” 

At issue is the section in the Code that defines a contested election as one that occurs by the first Tuesday in August. This is approximately seven months before the February 22nd State filing deadline for primary candidates. Rarely, if ever, are there two declared candidates that early in the process. The first Monday in August is the State’s filing deadline for general elections’ third party or independent candidates which is the purpose behind this date. Obviously, this date has meaning but not for contested primary elections. To interpret this date as a way to block a CEF-qualifying primary candidate from deserved funds is more than just a literal interpretation, it is political maneuvering.

Withholding State approved funds constitutes an unprecedented change of campaign finance rules in the middle of an election cycle. It creates a fundamentally unfair situation for CEF campaigns that have already formed public financing committees and will have a chilling effect on those who may be considering use of the CEF by the State candidacy filing deadline. In my Committee’s case, failure to disburse approved funds also creates financial uncertainty since, from a budgeting and contracting perspective, we will not know when, if ever, funds will be released to pay for campaign expenses. To the contrary, disbursement of funds harms no one and the CEF program can proceed as represented by State and County officials. I am asking the Director of Finance to reconsider his decision. 

In the meantime, the pending CEF legislation can be amended to make it emergency legislation (effective immediately after the February vote), as the Council was asked to do by the Citizens’ Election Commission. The Council must have four votes to pass emergency legislation.

76,005 Howard Countians voted to amend “the Howard County Charter to establish the Citizens’ Election Fund (CEF). The actions of the Ball administration dash the expectations of Howard County citizens who believed that the CEF would address the influence of money in politics.

Here is the full statement on the 10th: Summary of CEF Situation-Final Draft 3

Here are additional documents sent to Scott E’s Blog:

(Be sure to click on the links and read these documents…they are important to this story)

1. Timeline of events via Deb Jung: CEF Timeline

A significant item here was noted after the October 19th event (letter, see below):

“No mention is made that CEF candidates will be denied a distribution of CEF funds because of a technical issue in legislation.”

2. Letter from the CEF Commission about emergency legislation on October 19th: Letter Requesting Emergency Legislation 10.19.2021

3. Letter from Rafiu Ighile (Director Department of Finance) to Ben Bialek (Chair, Committee to Re-Elect Deb Jung) on January 7th: Response to Disbursement Request – Committee to Re-Elect Deb Jung

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Video clips from the Citizens’ Election Fund meeting on January 10th. I have not found a recording of this meeting posted online but a follower of the Blog captured some video clips of the meeting on the 10th and they are worth sharing here in this article:

Update: I have been informed that there was no recording of the online meeting from January 10th and it is my understanding that minutes from that meeting will not be available until April 2022.

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One last thing…this article recently posted on the Blog:

Coalition Calls on Howard County Executive and Council to Save Fair Elections Program

https://scotteblog.com/2022/01/11/coalition-calls-on-howard-county-executive-and-council-to-save-fair-elections-program/

 

That is what I have on this topic at this point (I know…that was enough for one post today).

I will keep an eye out for additional information and be sure to cover it best I can here on Scott E’s Blog.

On last note: I am working on an interview with members from  Common Cause Maryland and Maryland Public Interest Research Group on this topic on Friday morning (the 14th)… keep an eye on the Scott E’s Blog social media channels for more information on that upcoming interview. I expect it to be a great interview on this topic.

Scott E

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