Commentary

Strout: Why Won’t Campaign Finance “Reformers” Lead By Example?

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This November, the people of Maine will have the opportunity to vote on a campaign finance reform proposal that advocates claim will bolster Maine’s Clean Elections Act and make our elections more transparent.  Yet these proponents refuse to act according to their own so-called principles.

If passed, Questions 1, the referendum question put forth by Mainers for Accountable Elections, would do essentially three things.

  1. Provide more funding for candidates to run under Maine’s Clean Election Act
  2. Increase fines for campaign finance violations
  3. Require independent political advertisements to reveal their three largest donors

There’s strong reasons to believe that none of these changes will have their intended effects.

[RELATED: Strout: The Liberals’ Hypocritical Dark Money Machine]

Still, I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they believe their referendum will increase transparency and accountability in elections.

If they do believe, however, that transparency in campaign spending is a worthy goal, then why aren’t they leading by example?

In their new campaign ad advocating for Question 1, Mainers for Accountable Elections does not reveal their top three largest donors.  Now of course they’re not legally required to do so.  Even if Question 1 passes, I don’t think campaign spending on ballot questions would be effected by the referendum.  My question, though, is if transparency is so important to them, then why don’t they lead by example and reveal their top three donors?

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I emailed Mainers for Accountable Elections a few weeks ago asking why they did not feel compelled to disclose their major donors in their television ad–they never responded.  I won’t hold my breath.

The fact that the campaign refuses to act on its own principles comes across as highly suspect.  It’s difficult to trust someone who talks the talk, but won’t walk the walk.

Truthfully, I could ask the same question of all the organizations who have come out in support of Question 1.  If transparency is so necessary in campaign finance, then why won’t these organizations reveal their donors?  How can The Maine People’s Alliance (MPA), which funnels thousands of dollars to support Democratic candidates, support a bill that reveals major donors while simultaneously keeping their donors anonymous?  It comes across as highly hypocritical that the MPA and other organizations supporting Question 1 would force certain types of advertisements to reveal the donors behind them and not hold themselves to the same standard.

If proponents of Question 1 are serious, if they aren’t simply trying to score political points while maintaining the status quo, then they should lead by example.  As it stands now, Mainers for Accountable Elections doesn’t pass the straight face test.  It’s difficult to support a cause who’s first major advertisement is steeped in hypocrisy.

Fortunately for Mainers, although apparently unfortunate for Mainers for Accountable Elections, they are required to disclose their donors to the Maine Ethics Commission.  With a little digging, one can find who is supporting the ballot initiative and why the campaign is so reluctant to disclose them.

According to a July report, Mainers for Clean Elections largest donor by far is Sean Eldridge, a wealthy investor and politician from New York.  Why a person from out of state is almost single-handedly funding a state-wide ballot question on “clean” elections is beyond me, but it certainly raises questions about why Mainers for Accountable Elections neglected to put that information on their campaign ad.  Perhaps Edridge got a taste for Maine politics when he became a massive financier of the Maine same-sex marriage ballot initiative back in 2012, or maybe he’s looking to fill in the vacuum that fellow financier Donald Sussman appears to be leaving in the state.

[RELATED: SEE Robinson: Sussman-Pingree Split Spells Trouble for Liberals]

Maybe the reason Mainers for Clean Elections elected not to publicly disclose their donors is that they saw the irony that a group whose name implies that it is locally funded and operated receives its lion’s share of support from out of state donors.

Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that.  If, however, you call for transparency in elections and refuse to lead by example, you’re asking for questions–and you’d better have answers ready.

About Nathan Strout

Nathan Strout is a Development Associate with The Maine Heritage Policy Center as well as a staff writer for The Maine Wire. Born and raised in Portland, Strout is a graduate of Eastern University with a B.A. in Political Science and a minor in Legal Studies.

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