Indian-American Shruti Bhatnagar, 46, who was seeking a seat on the County Council in Montgomery County, Maryland last November has become ineligible to receive matching county funds based on the small-dollar contributions that she has received, according to a Bethesda Magazine report.
According to the Bethesda Magazine report, “it’s known colloquially by state Board of Elections and county officials overseeing the system as the ‘one bite at the apple rule’ and means that candidates only get one opportunity to submit enough certified contributions to meet the legal thresholds for receiving public matching funds.”
Bhatnagar and four other at-large council candidates have been removed from the most recent monthly update posted on the county website, which contains a list of candidates who have and are still working to be certified to receive public funds.
Bhatnagar is among 38 candidates who filed to run for the four at-large council seats this year, and have been eligible to receive matching funds as of Feb. 28.
According to Bethesda Magazine, candidates who enroll in the public campaign finance system agree to only accept contributions of $150 or less from individuals who are county residents and must receive at least 250 contributions totaling at least $20,000 to qualify for matching public funds.
However, in an email to Bethesda Beat, Bhatnagar denied the fact that she has been ruled ineligible to participate in the public financing system.
“We have received no formal notice from the Maryland State Board of Elections disqualifying me from public finance. It appears that there may be some dispute as to how certain contributions are being categorized by the Board of Elections,” Bhatnagar wrote.
“My campaign worked diligently to insure that we fully complied with all of the requirements of the Montgomery County Public Financing Law. This issue is not only important for our campaign but impacts the very spirit of public financing,” she added.
According to Bethesda Magazine, in a Jan. 30 filing, Bhatnagar claimed to have met the $20,000 threshold needed to qualify as she had $20,086 in qualifying contributions and requested she get $69,500 in public campaign funds.
Bhatnagar told Bethesda Beat that her submissions included two in-kind contributions of $150 each but said that the board ruled those as unqualified and was unaware that in-kind contributions could not be counted toward the qualifying thresholds.
According to an earlier News India Times report, Bhatnagar is the founder of the Indian-American Democratic Club of Maryland and is running in the county that is home to Indian-American state legislator Kumar Barve and Aruna Miller, the first Indian-American woman elected to the House of Delegates who is currently making a bid for Congress.
Bhatnagar was born in Udaipur, Rajasthan, lived in Delhi and has been living in Montgomery County for 18 years, her father was a small business owner and her mother started her career teaching at a university and later resumed her career in public service.
“Both my parents had to work to make sure my sister and I could get quality education. They taught me the values of putting family first, good education, hard work and community service,” she says on her campaign website.
After receiving her Bachelor’s in economics and political science along with an MBA, Bhatnagar worked for a finance company and continued growing her career by working in the telecommunications and software development sectors with U.S. corporations based in New Delhi, according to her campaign website.
She now serves the broader community as an At-Large member on the executive committee of the Montgomery County Civic Federation and has been involved with many local, county and state level organizations.
Bhatnagar was also appointed by the County Executive to serve on the Montgomery County Commission of Children and Youth where she led the sub-committee on the Opiod epidemic and continues to work on other issues such as mental health and DACA.