In the 2018 election year, Baltimoreans overwhelmingly voted to support Question H, the Fair Election Fund Charter Amendment. This vote shows that the majority of Baltimore Voters know we must decrease the influence of corporate and special interest money in local elections and empower local working-class candidates and donors to participate in elections.
With the 2020 election looming and Baltimore again dealing with the aftermath of another mayor resigning in scandal because of influence peddling, graft, and self-dealing, the level of trust in the local democratic process and institutions is at a low. Many working and poor people in the city understand that the latest round of scandal reflects a chronic problem: the political class is primarily beholden only to themselves and to their donor networks, not to the people.
We– Ujima People’s Progress Party, Greater Baltimore Democratic Socialists of America, and the Baltimore City Green Party– are a coalition of political organizations that believe we must take every opportunity to increase the influence of working-class and poor city residents in city elections. Ujima People’s Progress Party is a Black workers-led movement to build a social and economic justice electoral party, the Baltimore City Green Party challenges single-party rule in Baltimore by running candidates committed to grassroots democracy, social justice, environmental justice, and nonviolence.
The Greater Baltimore Democratic Socialists of America believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically to meet human needs, not to make profits for a few. We are a political and activist organization, not a political party, and through our community-based chapter, DSA members use a variety of tactics, from legislative to direct action, to fight to empower working people in the Greater Baltimore area.
Baltimore has a long history of impacting change not just through elections but through social movements and community organizing. For too long, wealthy insiders have narrowed our options at the ballot box to only those that represent the monied, corporate, and special interests. In particular, in Baltimore, the Democratic primary has been “the real election”, even though more people vote in the general election. Because taxpayer dollars pay for primaries, public money subsidizes elections for one set of voters to have a real choice. The Fair Election fund presents an opportunity to expand that to ensure that all residents have a meaningful choice in the General Election.
The understanding that the rich and special interests have hampered structural social change should guide Baltimoreans as we engage in well-intentioned reform efforts like the Fair Election Fund. However, because we know the wealthy will not let us vote or legislate their wealth away, reforms like the Fair Election Fund represent a tool that working people can use to advance their interests. We must remain vigilant as CB19-0403 moves through the City Council to the Mayor’s desk.
We know that the Fair Election Fund is a starting point, not the finish line. We must also work to better enforce existing laws, like those former Mayor Pugh violated in 2016, achieve far better greater transparency related to campaign donations, and at the state level rewrite laws governing third-party access to primary and general election ballots.
The public financing of serious grassroots candidates, in the primary and in the general election is a key part of leveling the playing field. Working-class candidates, like those Greens who recently won delegate races on the Baltimore City Resident Advisory Board for public housing, will be able to compete with candidates funded by developers planning to sweep away swaths of affordable housing in East Baltimore.
Freed of the influence of big donors and special interests, these candidates will spend more time engaging voters about their ideas, and less time trying to raise money to get their word out. Caps on donations for candidates taking part in publicly financed elections will ensure that the wealthy don’t have undue influence on decision-making and will put the power back in the hands of Baltimore residents who expect payback for their votes and contributions only in the form of responsive governance and progressive legislation, not sweetheart municipal contracts and Tax Increment Financing handouts.
All three of our organizations are fueled by working-class people, not the wealthy, and the candidates we put forth, either on the ballot or in our endorsements, will be accountable to the working people of this City in a way that’s impossible for conventional candidates funded by the elite.
Gaby Nair is Chair of the Electoral Committee Greater Baltimore Democratic Socialists of America. Nnamdi Lumumba is a co-founder of the Ujima People’s Progress Party. Owen Silverman Andrews is Co-Chair of the Baltimore City Green Party.