On Thursday the Maine Legislature’s Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs voted “ought to pass” on LD 1966, a bill that would allow candidates for county offices to receive taxpayer funds under the Maine Clean Election Act (MCEA).
The MCEA currently allows candidates running for Governor, State Senator and State Representative to voluntarily accept full public financing of their campaigns.
If a candidate decides to receive MCEA funds, he or she can no longer accept private contributions to their campaign.
Rep. Benjamin Collings’ (D-Portland) proposed bill, LD 1966, would expand eligibility for MCEA funds to candidates running for county offices throughout Maine.
The amount of MCEA funds allotted to certain counties would be left to the discretion of the Maine Commission on Government Ethics and Election Practices, based on the Consumer Price Index, historical campaign spending practices, and the competitiveness of the county race.
Anna Keller, the Executive Director of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, provided the Committee with a sample pay scale sheet of what the distribution of MCEA funds to certain counties might look like.
Rep. David Boyer (R-Poland) and Rep. John Andrews (R-Paris) both spoke out in opposition to LD 1966, citing concerns that the bill is a poor use of tax dollars, would not solve the problem of outside money influencing elections, and funds would be unevenly distributed across counties.
“It seems like there’s a lot of tax dollars being spent, and this doesn’t seem a prudent use of our tax dollars when inflation is so high, when the costs for Mainers are so high, and there’s no tax relief being delivered to Mainers,” Boyer said.
“To spend more tax dollars on yard signs, on bulk mail, junk mail, political consultants, political staff — it just does not seem prudent,” Boyer added.
The central promise of the MCEA has always been to make Maine politics “clean” by reducing the influence of outside money. However, since the MCEA came into existence in 1996, the flow of outside money from corporations, unions, and dark money interest groups into state and local Maine races has only increased.
Boyer referenced the 2022 Cumberland County District Attorney Democratic primary, where more than $300,000 from far-left mega donor George Soros helped elect progressive Jacqueline Sartoris.
“You look at Cumberland with this DA race they had, where half a million dollars in outside money got spent,” Boyer said. “Nothing in this legislation stops that.”
Similarly, Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook) accepted taxpayer funding for his 2022 State Senate campaign against Republican Sue Bernard.
But just because Jackson’s campaign was on the dole didn’t stop allied interest groups, including massive labor unions, from spending almost one million dollars attacking Bernard and boosting Jackson.
If MCEA was supposed to get outside money out of Maine politics, then any objective observer would have to admit that it has failed.
Rep. Andrews voiced related concerns regarding how funds would be allotted to Maine’s counties.
“I don’t like the bill, and looking at this pay scale sheet it makes me think that it’s a classic case of ‘all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,’ so I will be voting against it,” Andrews said.
Rep. Morgan Rielly (D-Westbrook) explained why he cosponsored and supported the motion to pass LD 1966.
“I cosponsored this [bill] not because I’m hoping to further create a politicized environment in already political offices,” Rielly said, “but just to be able to provide another avenue, another way for people who want to run to be able to run and do so.”
“It just gives people another option to be able to, if they so choose, to run as a clean election candidate,” he said.
Volunteering to be a clean election candidate has been a widespread practice among both Republican and Democratic legislative and gubernatorial candidates.
Data from Maine’s Ethics Commission shows that from 2004 to 2020, the majority of Maine’s legislative candidates opted to receive MCEA funds, though Democratic candidates were more likely to participate in the program.
Although left-wing activists have cited these enrollment statistics and various public opinion polling as an indication that MCEA has broad support among Maine people, a 2013 review by the Maine Wire found that very few Maine taxpayers support the program when filing taxes.
Maine’s tax returns provide the option to give the MCEA fund $1.
In 2013, 93 percent of Maine taxpayers declined to support the program with a dollar.