Last session, lawmakers considered LD 218, a bill that would have prohibited Maine Clean Election Act candidates from soliciting, accepting or collecting seed money or qualifying contributions within 250 feet of a voting place, as well as within the voting place itself.
Here’s a refresher on which political contributions were being targeted in this bill. Under the Maine Clean Election Act (MCEA), candidates are allowed to accept limited “seed money contributions” at the beginning of their campaigns. These contributions can only be accepted from individuals and are required to be less than $100 per contributor. The sum of these contributions cannot be more than $1,000 for House candidates, $3,000 for Senate candidates, and $200,000 for gubernatorial candidates.
MCEA candidates can also collect qualifying contributions, which are given to candidates in the form of $5 checks. Under the MCEA, candidates are required to collect a certain number of $5 check from members of their community in order to be eligible to receive funds from the program. Candidates for state representative, state senate and governor need to obtain a minimum of 60, 175 and 3,200 checks, respectively, to qualify for clean elections act funding. After the initial deadline to become eligible, candidates are allowed to continue collecting qualifying contributions to receive more money from the Maine Clean Election Fund.
In 2018, Maine House Republicans issued a statement that said candidates were collecting MCEA checks at polling places in the June 2018 election. According to the statement, some candidates put out signs that read, “Do You Want To Fund Clean Elections?” without informing voters that they were cutting a check in support of the individual candidates soliciting contributions. Under the MCEA, individuals writing checks are required to make their checks payable to the “Maine Clean Election Fund,” not the candidates themselves.
Nonetheless, LD 218 received an “Ought Not to Pass” report out of committee and officially died before the legislature adjourned in June. Only four people testified on this bill — all neither for nor against the proposal. The greatest criticism of LD 218 was that it applied to Maine Clean Election Act candidates, but was silent on privately-funded candidates. In their testimony, Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, a passionate supporter of the Maine Clean Election Act, said they would have supported the bill if it was amended to apply to all candidates running for office.
They’re right — all fundraising in polling places should be prohibited for all candidates and ballot questions, regardless of the funding source.
Currently, individuals within 250 feet of the voting place or within the voting place itself are prohibited from influencing or attempting to influence another person’s decision regarding a candidate or question that is on the ballot for the election that day. However, the law does not expressly prohibit fundraising. In their testimony on LD 218, the Maine Town and City Clerks’ Association said,
“It is difficult for campaign workers to ask for donations without using influential language in support of their candidate and discussing the merits of their campaign. The ability for a campaign to set up a table inside the building where voting is occurring leads to the impression and perception that voter influence is taking place. We need to avoid the projection of this image. Campaigns have the ability to recruit donations in numerous of ways; setting up at the polls should be off-limits.”
Regardless of whether candidates or their surrogates use influential language, they should not be allowed to fundraise at the polls. It is time for lawmakers to clear up this confusion and expressly prohibit all fundraising within Maine polling locations.