Commentary

Frary: Some Questions About Proposition 1

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FIRST: HAS THE CLEAN ELECTIONS LAW IMPROVED LEGISLATION?

The Maine Clean Elections Act (MCEA) went into effect for the 2000 elections when half the Senate and 30% of the House were elected with MCEA funding. In 2002, the percentages were 77% and 55% respectively. These totals are cited on The Maine Citizens for Clean Elections website as evidence that the Act was working.

How so? We read that it “…allows anyone with enough community support to run for office, regardless of economic background or access to wealth. Before the law was passed, candidates would either spend their own money or raise funds from those willing and interested in funding a political campaign. Today, even those without personal wealth or connections can run viable campaigns.” This sounds very nice, but if we descend from the sound effects to the substance…well, we can’t actually make this descent, because there is no substance. There is no evidence that Maine’s legislatures have grown smarter, more diligent, taller, slimmer, prettier, more agile, more honest or more effective in any way.

The site offers an interview with Senator Ed Youngblood (R-Brewer) in which he asserts that Maine “has more women in the legislature, more blue collar workers in the legislature, more independents in the legislature, and many, many more people who never thought they would run for office — all directly attributable to the Clean Election program.” The senator explains that he would not have run himself without clean election funding, but is too humble to describe how his presence improved the legislature’s performance.

This leaves us with vague generalizations without statistical substance. We know, in fact, that Maine is tied with New Hampshire in the proportion of women legislators although New Hampshire has no public funding. The major difference between Republican and Democratic legislators in Maine is the preponderance of Democrats who have spent their lives in jobs with non-profits and governmental entities as opposed to the heavy representation of people from the private sector among Republicans.

I know of no reliably objective tests for judging legislative effectiveness, but clean election advocates seem unwilling to offer even subjective arguments for improved legislative performance.

SECOND: WILL PASSAGE OF PROPOSITION ONE REDUCE THE FLOW OF POLITICAL MONEY?

The rules proposed in Proposition One for applying public funding are complicated, but in simplest terms, taxpayers provide $5,000 for each eligible House candidate and $20,000 per Senate under the existing legislation. Passage of Proposition One will raise funding for House candidates to $15,000 and $60,000 for Senate. Although it is not immediately apparent how tripling the Clean Election bounty per candidate will diminish the influence of money, advocates argue that the $6,000,000 public financing option will help balance the public interest against private interests.

Advocates would build a stronger case if they provided figures showing how the totals spent on legislative races had dropped since the 2000 elections. This is easily done if they choose to compile the figures regularly provided by the Maine Commission of Governmental Ethics & Election Practices. The advocates have never done this. I haven’t either, yet I’m open to placing small bets that total political expenditures will go up, not down, in the elections following passage of the Proposition.

THIRD: WILL PASSAGE OF PROPOSITION ONE IMPROVE DEMOCRACY?

Advocates hope that passage will “elevate the voice of everyday Mainers in our political system,” “put the power back in the hands of the people” and “restore the voices of Maine people in our elections.” Most advocates seem content to announce this democratic effect as a given, but a few attempt to support the assertion with a bit of substance. Not one among them attempts to explain how $60,000 worth of palm cards, throw-away mailings, lawn signs, robocalls, and broadcasted sound-bites improves democracy if publicly funded, but generalities abound.

The common argument is that muting powerful, wealthy special interests will allow “the People,” “Maine people” and/or “everyday Mainers” to make themselves heard. This proposition is refined by pointing out that our elected representatives will have more time to listen to us if their hours and days are not pre-empted by fund-raising activities.

A total and categorical denial of this argument would be rash, but it’s reasonable to say its texture is more gossamer than concrete. It’s a common observation, on both sides of the aisle, that a dozen personal phone-calls from constituents concentrates the minds of legislators wonderfully.

And there’s the neglected phenomenon of what we may call “grass-roots special interests.” If Maine’s dog breeders or motorcyclists are offended by some proposed law or regulation they may pack a committee hearing so effectively that the offending measure dies right there. We know this can happen, because it has happened.

FOURTH: CUI BONO?

The great Roman orator, Marcus Tullius Cicero, defending a client in a criminal trial, once remarked that “Lucius Cassius, whom the Roman people used to regard as a very honest and wise judge, was in the habit of asking, time and again, ‘To whose benefit?’“ Twenty-three hundred years later Cui bono? remains an inevitable question in all criminal investigations and a useful one in all political conflicts.

Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, which is virtually identical with Mainers for Accountable Elections, represents itself as a congregation of “concerned citizens,” presumably innocent of any partisan motives. It’s true that there are Republicans and “good government” innocents among the Proposition’s supporters, but its leadership, board of directors, and staff are drawn from a pool of activist liberals. The information provided by the organization’s website makes elusive references to their involvement “in numerous political campaigns and civic organizations.” Investigation of their political involvements shows affiliations with the liberal Democrats Rep. Alice Kryzan, Senator George Mitchell and Senator Paul Sarbanes. It appears that none of these non-partisan concerned citizens have ever found a Republican worthy of their support. Despite numerous references to “involvement in political campaigns” those were the only names mentioned in the site.

MCCE Board Member Jesse Graham is also Executive Director of the Maine People’s Alliance (MPA) and the Maine People’s Resource Center (MPRC). We read that Jesse has served MPA as Field Director, Community Organizer, Associate Director and liaison to many coalitions, including MCCE and all environmental coalitions. This commands our attention on a number of points. First, even the majority of Maine’s journalists have figure out that the MPA is a left-liberal organization. Many observers are trying to decide whether the MPA is a “front” for the Maine Democratic Party or the Maine Democratic Party is fronting for the MPA. This writer is still puzzling over this vexed question.

The website tells us that its program director, BJ McCollister, “worked as Southern Maine Field Director for State Senate races…” in 2010. It does not tell us which party he was directing for. We are left to guess. So go ahead and guess.

The “concerned citizens” who direct the MCCE boast of their histories with the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, the Children’s Defense Fund, the Maine Children’s Alliance, the Maine Women’s Lobby, the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund, Maine Shares, and League of Women Voters of Maine.

An October 5, 2015 BDN column by Rep. Larry Lockman points out that the far-left progressive Proteus Piper Fund, based in Amherst, Massachusetts, has so far invested $200,000 for the campaign. A July 12, 2006 column by Lance Tapley in “The Portland Phoenix.” describes the Proteus Fund’s Bluepoint Project, a scheme to coordinate the work of 34 progressive non-partisan, non-profit organizations dedicated to transform Maine and improve Mainers. These organizations have multiple links with the MCCE. If they qualify as “non-partisan” for tax purposes, their personnel overwhelmingly qualify as partisan Democrats. This suggests an answer to our fourth question.

About John Frary

Professor John Frary of Farmington, Maine is a former US Congress candidate and retired history professor, a Board Member of Maine Taxpayers United and publisher of www.fraryhomecompanion.com and can be reached at: jfrary8070@aol.com

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