Updated at 6:45 p.m.: Activist Robin Ficker said Friday he plans to run for office in Montgomery County, and plans to raise money for his campaign by contacting voters who provided email addresses when he was collecting signatures for a term-limits petition last summer.
A Republican attorney who lives in Boyds, Ficker said in an interview with Bethesda Beat earlier Friday that he would seek a seat on the Montgomery County Council, but later said Friday evening that he didn’t specify what county office he would run for.
Ficker spearheaded the petition drive to put a question on the November ballot asking voters whether the county charter should be amended to cap the time in office of the county executive and members of the County Council at three consecutive four-year terms. Voters approved the term-limits amendment.
The term-limits charter amendment opened up five seats for the 2018 election—the county executive, three at-large council seats and the council’s District 1 seat. Voters will choose all nine council members and the county executive.
Ficker said he sees nothing wrong with using the email addresses of those who signed the term-limits petition, even though he’s using the addresses for a purpose other than the one they were collected for. The form Ficker printed for the successful petition drive asked signers to include their email addresses, which aren’t required for the state to validate the signatures as those of registered voters for ballot initiatives.
“They’re signing the term-limits petition because they don’t like the agenda of those in office,” Ficker said. “Then they get an email from someone who says, ‘I agree with you. I don’t agree with their agenda either.’ ”
Ficker said he has opened a bank account for his campaign, but state rules say he can’t file his candidacy until February. Some members of Montgomery County’s delegation to the House of Delegates also are considering running for council seats.
Ficker said he was considering using the county’s new public financing law to support his campaign. The law was passed as an effort to limit the influence of special-interest donors in county executive and County Council elections. Candidates opting to enter the financing program would be barred from taking corporate, union, central committee or political action committee contributions.
Candidates can collect donations of $5 to $150 from county residents, and then receive matches from a pool of taxpayer dollars. “You need a substantial number of contributions, but they’re matched, and it’s a better match than I’ve seen in the country,” Ficker said.
If Ficker files to run, it will be his third attempt in recent years to win a council seat. Ficker lost to Rice in 2010 for the council’s District 2 seat. Rice captured 33,398 votes to Ficker’s 19,692. The year before, Ficker lost to council member Nancy Navarro, 7,364 to 4,263, in a special election for the council’s District 4 seat. Ficker said Friday he used his parents’ Silver Spring address to run in that race.
“The time to run for these offices is when there’s an open seat,” he said. The 2009 District 4 special election chose the successor to Don Praisner following his death.
After petition drive, Ficker presented 17,649 signatures to the Montgomery County Board of Elections in August. He needed 10,000 to get the term-limits measure on the ballot. The board stopped verifying the names of registered voters after 12,573 names.
Former Rockville City Councilman Tom Moore took the board’s verification process and Ficker’s petition-gathering methods to court. A county judge rejected Moore’s arguments that the petition should be thrown out. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals refused to hear Moore’s appeal and the court case died.
Ficker printed his own petition pages, and the pages do not say the email addresses were optional. But in a telephone interview, Ficker insisted the signers of the petitions weren’t pressured into providing their email addresses. He estimated about 20 percent of signers provided their email addresses.
“When people email the County Council on their view on an issue, I guarantee those office holders capture those emails,” he said.