Just one year after Maine Citizens for Clean Elections (MCCE) celebrated the first successful decade of Clean Elections in Maine, the 125th Legislature has contemplated seriously scaling back Maine’s first-in-the-nation law.
While efforts to repeal the law outright have failed, the legislature has dragged its feet on updating the law in the wake of a damaging U.S. Supreme Court decision. That has left considerable uncertainty about how the program will work in the 2012 election cycle, currently underway.
The legislature has had many opportunities to strengthen the law, but last November, a majority on the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee voted to do nothing. That vote spurred appropriate outrage among Clean Election supporters, and more than 1,700 MPA members immediately signed an online statement of support for Clean Elections. More than 350 comments were received, and they illustrate the depth of concern that people have about the outsize role of money in politics, and a steadfast belief in the value of our Clean Election law.
Since then, MCCE, MPA and other partners have made countless contacts with legislators to make sure that lawmakers hear this message loud and clear: Maine people want to have a strong, robust Clean Election system that allows all candidates to run vigorous campaigns that are free of special interest dollars.
Here’s a bit of background about why we need to change the law:
Last June, the Court struck down the matching funds system that has been part of Maine’s law from the beginning. Matching funds allowed Clean Election candidates, who are limited in what they may spend, to keep up with better-funded opponents. Without matching funds, attack ads by outside groups could go unanswered. Wealthy opponents could dramatically outspend Clean Election candidates.
After the Court’s decision, Maine’s Ethics Commission quickly convened MCCE and other stakeholders, held public hearings and researched alternatives. The result was a very strong recommendation to replace the matching funds system with a “requalifying” option that would allow candidates access to additional funds, within limits, based on the candidate’s ability and willingness to collect significantly more $5 qualifying contributions from local voters.
This reasonable, budget-neutral alternative has broad support, but Clean Election opponents are using the state’s budget problems as an excuse to diminish the program. Since they don’t have the votes to repeal Clean Elections, they will try and starve it instead.
This really is as despicable as it sounds. Today the fight is about replacing matching funds in legislative races. Next year, the fight will be about whether to have Clean Elections in gubernatorial races at all. These roll-back efforts will be rationalized with an argument that we can’t afford Clean Elections.
Outside of Augusta, it’s crystal clear that we can’t afford not to have Clean Elections.
This, after all, is the issue of our time. The national outrage over Citizens United and the onslaught of corporate money it unleashed is not going away. Thanks to the Super PACs that formed in its wake, Americans are subject to more misleading, negative attack ads with less transparency about who is behind them than ever.
Maine people want to go forward, not backward. They want voters, not donors, at the center of elections. Clean Elections, PAC reform, and measures to get corporate money out of elections altogether are all desperately needed.
What can you do? Here are three simple things.
1. Check it off for Clean Elections. Line 1 on your Maine income tax form is the Clean Election check-off. You and your spouse can each check a box, sending three dollars apiece into the Clean Election Fund. This won’t raise your tax bill or reduce your refund.
2. Contact your legislators. Tell them you are counting on them to keep Clean Elections strong, in both legislative AND gubernatorial races. Tell them you support Clean Elections in principle and in practice, by using the tax form check-off and writing $5 Qualifying Contributions.
3. Tell everyone else! Write a letter to the editor, forward an email, post a reminder about the check-off on your Facebook page – whatever you do, make sure your friends, neighbors and family know where you stand when it comes to Clean Elections.
From the beginning, MPA and its members have been active supporters of Clean Elections, collecting signatures to put the initiative on the ballot, working hard for its passage, and even helping to defend it in court. Today, MPA members serve in the legislature, thanks to Clean Elections.
Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, "The most important political office is that of the private citizen." It’s time for all Mainers to do their part.