Commentary

Was the 2014 Question 1 Funding Increase Necessary?

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A few months ago the voters of Maine passed a Citizen’s Initiative called Question 1. This new law will nearly triple money for taxpayer-funded political “clean elections” candidates and make some minor changes in disclosure and penalties, which will have little impact on the business of politics in this modern-day climate.

To combat this measure and raise awareness about the potential impacts of Question 1, a political action committee called Mainers Against Welfare for Politicians was formed by myself and Representative Joel Stetkis of Cannan.

Although we were defeated on a statewide level, we are encouraged by the fact that the measure failed in Congrssional District 2 and that we have been hearing numerous accounts of buyer’s remorse from voters who did not fully understand the ramifications of their vote.

The cornerstone of the referendum included a massive increase of current funding levels. For example, House candidate funding went from about $5,000 to $15,000 and Senate candidate funding went from about $22,000 to $60,000.

I am pleased that the voters in my hometown of Warren voted down this massive expansion by a margin of 64% to 36%. Clearly they understand how to prioritize funding for critical programs and services for our seniors, veterans and schools.

During the Question 1 campaign we heard over and over how taxpayer funded elections make it possible for the “average person” to run for office. Please consider the following FACTS.

Deb Sanderson, the State Representative from Chelsea, has run for office three times and won each time. The first time she was encouraged to take tax dollars for her campaign and did so. After that, she was able to raise enough money on her own to get elected based on her message, work ethic and reputation. Deb has worked as a medical biller and is now selling cars in Augusta.

Heather Sirocki, the State Representative from Scarborough, is now serving her third term and has never used tax payer money to get elected. Heather is a dynamic and enthusiastic person who has worked in a dental office.

Phyllis Ginzler, the State Representative from Bridgton ran for elected office for the first time in 2014. She raised enough money ($5,700) on her own to defeat an incumbent. She is a retired sales executive.

Beth O’Connor, the State Representative from Berwick, has run for the House of Representatives a total of four times and raised all her own money each time. She won twice and was defeated twice. This waitress/bartender is an excellent example of tenacity, hard work and commitment, and her four terms on the local school board clearly laid an excellent foundation for her political career. One of her defeats involved a primary (lost by 25 votes) and the other was against a taxpayer-funded candidate (lost by only 150 votes) who received the maximum allowable payout of $5,000 with traceable independent expenditures against her of about $35,000.

Amy Volk of Scarborough is currently serving her third term in the Maine Legislature. She was first elected with public financing for a House seat and was re-elected while raising her own money. In 2014, she raised over $60,000 and won her current seat in the state Senate. Her employment background is in the private sector. It is important to note that she won her Senate seat by 900 votes despite the $330,000 spent by outside groups in one of the most closely-watched races of 2014, with about 2/3 of that amount being spent to benefit her opponent.

The point I am trying to make is that each these five women have been able to run for public office prior to the recent massive expansion of taxpayer funded elections. A few used tax dollars to get elected the first time. Once they got their foot in the door and made a reputation for themselves, they were all able to be re-elected on merit and past performance. So I ask you, was this increase really necessary?  Would we not be better off using our finite tax dollars to fund other programs and services?

About Paula Sutton

State Rep. Paula Sutton, R-Warren, represents House District 95.

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