Clean Elections system raided of $1.5 million, disclosure in campaign spending rejected
March 14, 2012
AUGUSTA – Republicans in the Maine House today rammed through a proposal to gut Maine’s citizen-initiated Clean Elections law in a party-line vote. Democrats introduced two amendments to preserve the system and to increase transparency in campaign spending, but both were struck down by the Republican majority.
The final vote was 74 to 66.
“The Republicans are closing the door on the Clean Elections system that was mandated by the voters to limit the influence of special interests,” said Rep. Mike Carey, who led the debate against the bill in the House.
“Democrats want to make sure the program remains viable so anyone can run for office – not just the wealthy or professional politicians.”
Carey added, “The Republicans may as well just put up a welcome sign for the national SuperPACs because that’s who will be buying our local races.”
A recent Supreme Court ruling struck down a portion of a similar law in Arizona, which like Maine, allows candidates to receive additional “matching funds” to respond to campaign spending against them.
The Republican vote today struck down Maine’s “matching funds” law but provided no proposal to salvage the publicly financed program. The “do-nothing” approach makes the system less viable for candidates with more competitive races who may require more funds to fend off attacks from special interests.
Carey said the Republican plan would raid the Clean Elections funds of $1.5 million in addition to another $1 million already proposed in the governor’s supplemental budget introduced yesterday.
During the debate on the House floor, Democrats introduced a plan to save the system. The plan, similar to the one proposed by State’s independent Ethics Commission, would allow candidates in competitive races to requalify for additional funds by collecting additional $5 checks from constituents.
Republicans rejected the amendment.
“Elected officials should not be beholden to special interests and corporations from away,” said Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland. “We should be beholden to our constituents only. They don’t want electioneering, they want good government.”
Russell said the strong vote last fall against changes to our elections system reiterated that message.
“Maine people want us to focus on creating jobs and putting more money in the pockets of middle class families, but instead Republicans are focused on rigging Maine election laws.”
Democrats also introduced an amendment that would require disclosure in election spending. The proposal would have political parties and political action committees to disclose campaign spending of more than $1,000 within 24 hours of the expenditure.
Carey said the measure would require more transparency in the late days of campaign spending from outside special interests, like the Republican State Legislative Committee that broke the state ethics law in 2010 when it spent $400,000 on attack advertisements in legislative races. Candidates are already required to disclose these contributions and expenditures.
Carey added, “Not only did today’s vote raid the Clean Elections system, but Republicans then also refused to allow outside special interest spending be disclosed.”
The Maine Clean Election Act (MCEA) established a voluntary program of full public financing of political campaigns for candidates running for governor, state senator, and state representative. Maine voters overwhelmingly passed the MCEA as a citizen initiative in 1996.
The publicly financed campaign system is widely used by Republican and Democratic candidates. Eight in ten legislators from both parties won their seats using clean elections funds.
The bill faces more votes in the Senate and the House.
Jodi Quintero [Carey, Russell] 287-1488, c. 841-6279