Thiru Vignarajah’s mayoral campaign has collected enough small donations to qualify for $450,610 from Baltimore’s public campaign finance fund, positioning him to air TV ads, conduct polls and financially compete in the Democratic primary.

The city’s Fair Election Fund matches and multiplies donations to candidates who eschew contributions larger than $150 and refuse money from unions and PACs. Mayoral candidates who receive at least 500 small donations from city residents totaling $40,000 are eligible for the fund.

The public financing program uses a formula to match donations for citywide campaigns. Baltimore matches $9 for each of the first $25 donated — so a $25 donation earns a $225 match. After $25, the match decreases on a sliding scale until the maximum $150 donation. Qualifying mayoral candidates also receive a one-time $200,000 boost.

Vignarajah’s campaign reported receiving 500 qualifying donations totaling $53,120 to the Maryland State Board of Elections. According to paperwork filed by state officials on Thursday, the campaign is eligible to receive $250,610 in matched and multiplied donations, as well as the $200,000 boost.

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“For the first time, Baltimore will have a candidate for Mayor who is fueled by people, not developers, lobbyists, PACs, and corporations,” Vignarajah said in a statement.

His new sum is a solid figure. It exceeds those reported in mid-January by two of his competitors in the Democratic primary: Former Mayor Sheila Dixon reporting having about $370,000 on hand, while businessman Bob Wallace reported having $230,000. Mayor Brandon Scott reported $835,000 on hand.

It’s likely that Scott, Dixon and Wallace have gone into fundraising overdrive since those reports were filed, with the May 14 primary less than two months away.

Money isn’t everything. But running a race with little cash means a candidate won’t be able to conduct polls, which often informs the campaign on strategy, such as which voting blocks to target, and message, or air TV ads and send mailers, which may capture voters and sell a candidate’s story and agenda.

The cash infusion means Vignarajah may now be able to appeal more directly to voters. In a race as competitive as this year’s primary, where some polls have Scott and Dixon in a statistical dead heat, every vote matters.

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The Fair Election Fund was born after city lawmakers passed a bill supporting the policy in 2019, saying it would reduce the effect of big money and powerful donors in Baltimore politics. Vignarajah is the first mayoral campaign to qualify for the program. The maximum public contribution to a mayoral campaign is $1.5 million.

The next round of campaign finance reports are due on April 4. Candidates using public financing must file supplemental reports each time they wish to receive additional matched funds.

Wendy Bozel, a Baltimore City Public Schools teacher, is also running for mayor and seeking to use public financing. According to a mid-January filing, Bozel’s campaign has not yet recorded enough donations to qualify.

A super PAC supporting Dixon’s candidacy has spent aggressively on attack ads targeting Scott. It’s racked up more than $600,000 in donations, much of which came from real estate developer John “Jack” Luetkemeyer Jr. and David Smith, the chairman of TV network Sinclair Inc. and new co-owner of The Baltimore Sun.

A super PAC supporting the reelection of Mayor Brandon Scott was registered this week. It has not reported any donations or spending.

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By law, super PACs are prohibited from coordinating with the campaigns they support. They must publicly report spending sums $10,000 and above within 48 hours.

Shannon Sneed, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for City Council president, was the first citywide candidate to qualify for public financing. The state board of elections certified her to receive an initial $93,440 in matched and multiplied funds in November, as well as a one-time qualifying boost of $50,000.

Since then, state elections officials have filed five matching reports that qualified her for an additional $80,643 in public funds.

The maximum possible public contribution to a City Council president campaign is $375,000.

Emily Sullivan covers Baltimore City Hall. She joined the Banner after three years at WYPR, where she won multiple awards for her radio stories on city politics and culture. She previously reported for NPR’s national airwaves, focusing on business news and breaking news.

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