Clean Elections Damaged

The Maine legislature this year voted to weaken Maine’s Clean Election system, despite a recent poll showing a majority of Mainers support a strong system of public financing. The poll, conducted by the Maine People’s Resource Center (MPA’s sister organization) and sponsored by Maine Citizens for Clean Elections (MCCE), showed 69 percent of Mainers support Clean Elections. In addition, 80 percent of Maine voters believe that there is too much money in politics and that we must push forward with reforms to limit the influence of big money in elections and government.

The Maine Clean Election Act was overwhelmingly approved by voters at the ballot in 1996. The law provides community supported funds to local candidates to better compete against wealthy opponents and those with close ties to special interests. For 10 years the system has provided funds to candidates and 80 percent of current legislators opted to campaign through the Clean Elections system.  

A cornerstone of Maine’s Clean Election system is the triggered matching funds component. If a publicly funded candidate is outspent by privately-funded opponents or independent expenditure groups, matching funds are triggered to provide a level playing field and provide voters in hotly contested races an opportunity to hear both sides.

In June of last year, the US Supreme Court ruled against triggered matching funds for the State of Arizona’s Clean Election system, putting Maine’s system in jeopardy as well. The court ruled in a 5 to 4 decision that the privately-funded candidate’s free speech rights would be “chilled” because the publicly funded opponent would receive ‘matched’ speech by means of money. Without a level playing field, however, a publicly-funded candidate could potentially be overwhelmed by privately-funded candidates and special interests. The Clean Election system gives voters more choice and does not limit political discourse.

Anticipating that the Court would issue a negative opinion, Maine's House and Senate passed LD 848, a resolve which allowed time to study the impact of the Supreme Court ruling and adjust the system before the 2012 elections. The Ethics Commission recommended the legislature adopt a measure that would allow candidates to ‘re-qualify’ for additional funding by submitting additional contributions from voters in their district in order to receive additional public funding. 

The Legislature had a choice: fix and strengthen Maine’s Clean Election system, or do nothing and severely weaken the landmark law. Governor LePage and the Republican majority in the legislature decided to strike the matching funds but not replace them. This ‘do nothing’ solution was decried by activists. “The legislature and the governor have weakened our first in the nation Clean Election system by failing to replace the matching funds component that was struck down by an unfriendly Court,” said Andrew Bossie, Executive Director of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections (MCCE). “They have squandered the opportunity to lead, and instead have opened the door to more special interest influence.”

MPA and MCCE are committed to ensuring that Maine people continue to have campaign finance laws that reduce the role big money plays in our politics and government. 

As Jesse Graham, MPA’s Executive Director, recently stated, "Just a few months ago, Maine people voted overwhelmingly to support Maine's system of strong and open democracy by retaining same day voter registration. It's surprising and troubling that members of the Legislature have taken steps to dismantle Maine's system of clean elections, which will increase corporate influence and make it more difficult for ordinary Mainers to participate in their government. As poll after poll has shown,  Mainers want more clean government, not less."