The vast majority of Maine residents do not support the Maine Clean Election Act (MCEA), a law created via a 1996 citizens’ initiative to provide taxpayer cash to politicians, according to statistics from Maine Revenue Services (MRS).
As any Maine resident who pays taxes knows, line 1 of the Maine Income Tax Return allows tax filers to choose whether they want $3.00 to go to the Maine Clean Election Fund (MCEF), the pot of money that supports MCEA. It states: “Maine Clean Election fund. Maine Residents Only. Check here if you, or your spouse, if filing jointly, want $3 to go to this fund.”
According to MRS, just 44,466 of 606,745 tax filers checked that box on their tax returns in 2012. Importantly, checking the box does not increase one’s tax liability nor decrease one’s tax refund. Checking the box simply tells the state to appropriate $3 in General Fund revenues to MCEF.
That means a whopping 93 percent of Maine taxpayers elected not to send more money to the MCEF – even though doing so would not cost them a dime.
According to the statistics, which were obtained by The Maine Wire via a public records request, Mainer’s support for the program reached an all-time low in 2011, when only 44,279 of 651,926 tax filers – 6.7 percent – choose to support the fund, appropriating just $132,837 for public campaign financing. The highest level of support for the program came in 2001, when more than 95,000 taxpayers agreed to provide the fund with a total of $287,580. Since MCEA became law in 1996, Mainers have given $2.1 million to the program.
MCEA is a voluntary program that allows candidates running for Governor, State Senator, and State Representative to obtain taxpayer funding so long as they demonstrate sufficient community support by raising a small amount of private money in the form of seed money contributions.
Despite such increasingly low public support for the program, which is often described as welfare for politicians, special interest groups are currently lobbying for its expansion. One group in particular, Maine Citizens for Clean Elections (MCCE), claims, with little evidence, that MCEA is supported by the vast majority of Maine people.
This assertion rests on polling done by the Portland-based Critical Insights opinion research firm, which asked, “In your opinion, how important is it that Maine continue to have Clean Elections?” The construction of the question, and several others included in the survey, are heavily biased in favor of MCCE’s predetermined outcome. When considering actual levels of support for the program, it’s clear that the polls MCCE touts are flawed.
MCCE is a non-profit organization whose members include a litany of liberal special interests: AARP Maine, Common Cause Maine, EqualityMaine, League of Women Voters of Maine, League of Young Voters, Maine AFL-CIO, Maine Council of Churches, Maine People’s Alliance/Maine People’s Resource Center, Maine State Employees Association/SEIU Local 1989, Maine Women’s Lobby, NAACP Portland, and the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club.
MCCE has recently begun a petition drive to garner support for a proposal to expand the program. Their proposal would double the amount of taxpayer money politicians can collect to further their political ambitions. The plan would fund the expansion of the program by increasing all state-assessed fees – such as traffic tickets – by 15 percent.
Literature distributed by MCCE encourages Mainers to check the box on their tax returns. One of their reports states, “When tens of thousands of Maine people Check It Off, it sends a strong message of support for the Clean Election system.”
So what kind of message does it send when hundreds of thousands of Maine people don’t Check It Off?
Maine Wire Reporter