Fighting for Clean Elections

With the First Regular Session of the 125th Legislature now ended, supporters of the Maine Clean Election Act can breathe a sigh of relief. While not all of the news is good, the law withstood attacks both direct and indirect throughout the six and a half month long session. MPA is proud to be a member of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, who fought hard all winter and spring to protect Maine’s popular system to keep big money out of politics.

The Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs heard several dozen campaign finance bills during the session, from full repeal of Clean Elections to tiny policy changes to weaken the law. Luckily, the bill to fully repeal the system failed, but the 33 favorable votes the bill mustered in the House shows that opponents of clean elections are not going to give up.

Unfortunately, a bill that would cut gubernatorial candidates out of the Clean Election program (LD120) was carried over, so it will likely come up again in the Second Regular Session. This bill appears to have significant support in the committee and in the legislature as a whole, and it was supported by Governor LePage. This will be a big fight in when the legislature reconvenes; critics will raise the issue of the cost of the program and the fact that Maine has yet to elect a Clean Election gubernatorial winner as reasons to repeal it. Maine people came out in force at the hearing to oppose LD 120, but that effort must be sustained; separating our highest elected state official from private campaign money is critically important.

Although there was no bill introduced that would increase the contribution limit to privately funded gubernatorial candidates, Governor LePage proposed this change in his budget package. While it was withdrawn from the budget, it came back in the form of a floor amendment on an unrelated bill at the very end of the session. Despite an outcry from Maine people, editorial writers and Democratic legislators over the fact that the eleventh hour bill did not get a public hearing, the amendment carried, the bill passed, and contribution limits are now double what they were in the 2010 gubernatorial election.

Concurrent with the legislative session was the US Supreme Court’s term, which ended with a decision overturning the matching funds in Arizona’s Clean Election system. This decision was disappointing, to say the least, but not surprising coming from the Court that brought us the infamous Citizens United decision. The Court decision about matching funds affects the Maine law too, but fortunately we are well prepared to deal with the challenge since the 125th Legislature took preemptive action, passing a Resolve in both chambers that lays out a public process and a timeline so that appropriate adjustments can be made in Maine before the 2012 elections.

Throughout the legislative session, Maine Citizens for Clean Elections worked hard to maintain a strong presence at the State House and keep Clean Election supporters informed. A hastily called press conference in May called attention to a sneak attack on Clean Elections in the budget process, resulting in the Governor’s withdrawal of damaging provisions. More than 100 Maine people weighed in – in writing and in person – at important hearings, conveying the continuing importance of this citizen-initiated law to Maine people. Nearly 1,000 Mainers signed an Open Letter to the 125th Maine Legislature in support of our law, and the publication of that letter got the attention of every legislator. We’ll have to keep up this kind of pressure in 2012 if we are to be successful in defending a program that has the support of the vast majority of Maine people.