Today, Demos, a “think-and-do-tank” that champions ways to address deep-seated inequity in our political and economic systems, released a new report: Big Money in the Charm City: The White, Wealthy Donor Class that Fuels Baltimore’s Elections.
The study found that Baltimore’s campaign funds are dominated by developers, businesses, PACs, and other special interests. Donations from individuals are given by a donor class that is disproportionately white, male, wealthy, and older than the city’s residents overall.
“Big money in elections is among the greatest threats to a healthy, inclusive democracy. As a result, public policy in Baltimore too often does not align with the interests and priorities of Baltimoreans,” said the study’s author and Demos policy analyst, Laura Williamson.
The study also examined the demographic of a small-donor pool and found that this subset of the donor class better reflects the demographics of Baltimore and, in turn, the interests of the city overall.
In November 2018, 75 percent of voters voted for the Baltimore Fair Elections Fund – a new small-donor public financing program in which qualifying candidates for mayor, city council, and comptroller will be able to access public matching funds for their campaigns, in exchange for agreeing to limits on who they accept donations from and caps the size of contributions from these donors.
Based on evidence from other cities and states, the Baltimore Fair Elections fund could make it possible for a more diverse set of candidates to run for office, and prompt the adoption of policies more aligned with the public’s preferences.
The report also suggests additional program elements, beyond the tiered matching system currently under consideration, could make Baltimore’s elections among the most inclusive and equitable in the country.
“The Baltimore Fair Elections Fund will ensure our democracy is accountable to all Baltimoreans, not just an elite, unrepresentative donor class. By elevating the voices of everyday Baltimoreans—regardless of race, class, gender, or age—this new campaign finance system will advance the goal of political and economic equality in our city,” concluded Charly Carter, founder of Step Up Maryland and the Progressive Pipeline Project, which trains grassroots leaders to run for office.