AUGUSTA – On Wednesday, the Maine House of Representatives reaffirmed that taxpayer dollars can be used to pay for politicians’ post-election parties.
In a 60-85 vote that fell sharply along party lines, House Democrats approved a major substantive rule change (L.D. 1543) that will affect how candidates for public office can spend funds provided to them under the Maine Clean Elections Act (MCEA). The Senate approved the bill under a suspension of the rules and without holding a roll call vote.
The rule change, which was called for by the Maine Ethics Commission in April, will prevent candidates from spending taxpayer money on parties following primary elections, but will still allow MCEA candidates to host taxpayer-funded parties following general elections. Lawmakers rejected a Republican-backed amendment that would have prevented MCEA money from being spent on any post-election parties.
According to the MCEA rules, candidates for the House and Senate may spend, respectively, $250 and $750 on post-election powwows, while gubernatorial candidates are allotted $2,500 for their shindigs.
Maine Ethics Commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne said the rule allowing publicly funded candidates to use campaign funding for parties has been on the books for several election cycles.
“The commission has recognized for years that candidates may want to make a gesture to thank voters,” said Wayne. “Candidates may feel that this is a legitimate campaign activity, but it could be a sensitive issue for taxpayers.”
He said the commission has allowed MCEA candidates to spend campaign dollars on post-election parties because such events are traditional campaign activities. The actual amount of MCEA dollars spent on parties is small, he said.
Gordon Colby, chairman of the Knox and Lincoln County Tea Party, said the use of taxpayer dollars to fund parties is just another reason MCEA should be abolished altogether.
“Why would we be spending taxpayer money getting anyone elected? I think it’s reprehensible,” said Colby. “It doesn’t make one iota of sense.”
Eric Brakey, chairman of the Defense of Liberty PAC, agreed.
“Every taxpayer in the state of Maine should be outraged by this,” said Brakey. “It is shameful to see Augusta Democrats raising taxes so they can use our money to throw parties for their campaign supporters,” he said.
“That is not what we expect to pay taxes for.”