County’s Public Election Fund Information Finally Goes Live
By Sharon L. Cohen
Until recently, finding any information online about the county’s new Public Election Fund (PEF) program — describing what candidates need to do — was virtually impossible. Sure, one could read the online version of the statute, but strangely enough, what has been posted online for over a year was NOT the correct version of the law. Finally, the County Council seems to have gotten its act together by posting information about this program online, a mere five months before the first disbursement of funds to qualifying candidates goes out in late June of this year for the 2018 election. The Maryland Board of Elections has also finally posted information online.
In theory, the county’s new PEF program has allowed candidates to collect qualifying contributions since January, 2015, that is if any candidate was actually able to figure what to do. Interestingly, the first two candidate to notify the MD Board of Elections (BOE) of their intent to qualify as PEF candidates are, wait for it….two current Council members.
It would appear that current Council members have had a leg up in understanding how the new PEF program works. After all, ever since they wrote the law in 2014, they’ve had the inside track on information regarding how to file, what paper work to file, etc.
The County Council has allocated $6 million to the PEF pot of matching funds for the 2018 election. That’s a huge amount of money. And what’s the source of those funds? You guessed it – your tax dollars. Some hope to press the Council to add even more money to the PEF pot, but as of the 9th of February (last time I checked) only three candidates have filed to become PEF candidates for county elected offices in 2018.
Sure, more candidates may file and qualify as PEF candidates and there’s nothing to stop the Council from adding more money to the PEF pot if necessary. In fact, the Council may add funds as part of next year’s budget process or via a supplemental appropriation if the pot goes dry. Waiting to see how many candidates file and actually qualify, before adding more money to the PEF pot, seems prudent.
As a reminder, those seeking to qualify for PEF matching funds for county offices must agree to comply with all the PEF campaign contribution limitations, including NOT taking any campaign contribution over $150.00 and NOT taking any contributions from a political action committee (PAC), corporation, political party or union. There are, of course, many other rules related to the program, but these campaign limitations are the key to qualifying to participate.
To qualify for PEF matching funds, candidates must be in a contested race. Then, candidates must raise a minimum number of individual contributions from MOCO residents as well as raising an aggregate total just to qualify. Those minimum qualification thresholds are:
County Executive: 500/$40,000
At Large Council seat: 250/$20,000
District Council seat: 135/$10,000
Once certified, a PEF candidate may receive the maximum matching funds noted below for the primary and general election (each):
Council, At-large: $250K
Council, District: $125K
Keep in mind, in order to reach these max pay out amounts, a PEF candidate must raise much more than the minimum threshold amounts (noted above).
Here are the links to the new on-line information about the PEF program:
- The County’s website:
Answers to many other questions can be founda at the FAQs, and a time line is available at this link: http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/BONDS/Resources/Files/Public_Election_Fund_FAQ.pdf
- MD Board of Elections website:
To file as a PEF candidate, start here :
To see who has filed, you’ll have to search the MD Campaign Reporting System (CRIS) check here and select Public Finance Committee under the “Committee Type” tab: