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"Clean" politicians pander for dirty money

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HDCC InviteHouse Majority Leader Seth A. Berry (D-Bowdoinham) and Assistant Majority Leader Jeff M. McCabe (D-Skowhegan), both of whom ran taxpayer-funded campaigns in 2012 — ostensibly to reduce “dirty” money’s control over Maine elections—are hosting an event for their supporters, with top spots selling for up to $5000 a pop.

HDCC Invite 2

Both Berry and McCabe received money from the Maine Clean Election Act (MCEA). Touted by supporters as a way to “reduce the influence of big money in government” and “eliminate corruption, and the appearance of corruption,” the MCEA provides public funding for candidates to run in State Senate, State House of Representatives, and, until very recently, gubernatorial races. MCEA beneficiaries are forbidden from accepting most private contributions to their campaigns.

Berry and McCabe’s fundraiser will circumvent this restriction by sending contributions directly to the House Democratic Campaign Committee, the Act Blue-aligned umbrella organization responsible for gathering and redistributing campaign funding to Democratic committees and PACs. From there, the money is spent on campaigns statewide, including those of local candidates such as Berry and McCabe.

An email from House Speaker Mark Eves (see above) invites supporters to a “fun evening in South Portland” on August 6th at the Salt Water Grille in South Portland. The invitation includes rankings for guests, ranging from penny-pinching “Friends” (those who provide $500 contributions) to more generous “Sponsors” (those who provide $5000 contributions). Big money begets big favors—a fact not lost on Eves, who bills the event as a chance for his two Democrat comrades and himself to thank supporters and their “clients.”

“Our work with you and your clients was critical in shaping sound and sensible policy for Maine people and I am proud of the work we did together,” wrote Eves.

Since the MCEA’s inception, concerns have been raised over its effectiveness and ethical implications. After the Citizens United decision, it has only become easier for politicians to circumvent the MCEA’s stipulations. To receive MCEA funding, a politician must acquire a certain number of $5 contributions as proof that they have grassroots support. They are then forbidden from fundraising for their own campaigns.

Accepting public funding through the MCEA lends candidates such as Berry and McCabe a veneer of grassroots credibility, and ostensibly allows them to run their campaign without being beholden to donations from dirty special interests.But special interests can still whisper into politicians’ ears at events such as the coming dinner at the Salt Water Grille.Together, the pair of Democratic leaders accepted $8,846 in public funding, while they also channeled $7,900 in privately raised PAC money to the HDCC.

Using the money generated by the fundraiser to finance their next electoral bid and not accept taxpayer funding would be a legitimate move by Berry and McCabe. Yet, chances are they will continue to do what they did in 2012 – let taxpayers subsidize their political ambitions while nonetheless pandering for dirty money.

Samuel Sabasteanski
MaineWire Staff Writer

About Steve Robinson

Steve Robinson was the editor of The Maine Wire from 2013 through 2014. A native of Dexter, Maine, Robinson is a graduate of Bowdoin College, and is currently a Producer for The Howie Carr Show in Boston.

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