Sen. Matt Harrington (R-York) has introduced a bill that would require candidates who receive taxpayer funding for the state election campaigns to honestly represent the source and nature of the funding.
Presently, candidates who take taxpayer money to spend on campaign materials refer to themselves as “clean candidates,” a relic of the name of the law that allows politicians to take taxpayer funding to further their political careers.
The so-called “Maine Clean Elections Act” (MCEA) has created the unearned perception that taking taxpayer money for a political campaign is in some way ethically superior to self-funding a campaign or relying on donations from friends or local businesses.
Harrington wants to clear up the confusion.
His bill would require candidates who receive MCEA funds to include the words “public funds” in the disclaimers on their political advertisements, commercials, and mailers.
The bill, LD 790, aims to bring more transparency to campaign financing and inform the public about the use of taxpayer money in political campaigns.
Supporters of taxpayer funding for political campaigns, such as the non-profit group Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, argue that the proposed change is discriminatory as it would require an additional disclosure statement on all campaign communications. However, Harrington believes that if the program is as popular as its opponents claim, there should be no hesitation in being transparent with Maine’s citizens.
A 2013 investigation by the Maine Wire found that very few Maine taxpayers actually support the MCEA where it counts: with their wallets. Maine Revenue Service records showed at the time that just 7 percent of Maine tax filers checked a box on their tax returns to contribute one dollar to the MCEA funding. Which means a whopping 93 percent of Maine taxpayers care so little about the program they won’t even offer it a dollar.
Supporters of MCEA have also argued that taking money from taxpayers and giving it to politicians for their campaigns would reduce the influence of outside money on Maine politics. But there is no evidence that this has happened.
In the 2022 election cycle, Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook), who took taxpayer money for his campaign, simultaneously benefitted from an unprecedented amount of outside spending on his behalf.
Campaign finance records show Jackson’s allies spent more than $750,000 attacking his opponent or boosting his campaign. In practice, Jackson could call himself a “clean election” candidate while benefiting from the same big money politics that supporters of the law considered “dirty.”
Harrington’s bill would not change the requirements for candidates who rely on traditional sources of campaign funds, who must still disclose that they authorized the communication and who paid for it.
“The issue here is the opponents fear that Maine people will push back against the program if they learn their tax dollars are being spent on mail, lawn signs, and bumper stickers,” Harrington said.
The Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee has scheduled a work session for LD 790 on Wednesday, March 22 at 2 p.m.