Campaign coalesces to support campaign finance reform in November

Topsham poll worker Anette Philippon collects ballots during a special election on August 27. BDN photo by Troy Bennett.

Topsham poll worker Anette Philippon collects ballots during a special election. BDN file photo by Troy Bennett.

This may be an off-year in the election cycle, but Mainers will be faced with at least one referendum on November’s ballot — an effort to reform the state’s campaign finance laws and stiffen penalties for those who break them.

Earlier this month, a ballot question committee calling itself “Mainers for Accountable Elections” registered with the secretary of state, signaling the launch of the campaign to support the initiative.

The referendum will ask Mainers to endorse a slew of election reforms. The full language of the initiative can be found here, but these are the highlights:

  • The initiative would beef up the state’s Clean Elections program by providing publicly funded candidates access a way to more cash than is currently available;
  • enhanced penalties for campaign finance violations, including failure to file required reports;
  • a new requirement that communications that are independent expenditures, such as radio spots or campaign fliers, include a “conspicuous statement” listing the top three donors to the group making the expenditure.

The signature-gathering effort to get the initiative on the ballot was spearheaded by Maine Citizens for Clean Elections (whose former president is now also the treasurer for the new group), but the new campaign will include a broader array of supporters, according to a news release.

“This campaign isn’t about Democrats or Republicans or Independents. It’s about making sure that everyone – not just the wealthy – can be represented in our democracy,” said former GOP state Senator Ed Youngblood, one of the citizens who helped put this year’s referendum on the ballot. “That’s why this referendum is so important. When politicians depend on contributions from large corporations, lobbyists, and special interest groups, they work for them. We deserve politicians who work for us.”

Update: While no official group has formed to oppose the referendum, longtime GOP consultant Brent Littlefield summarized on of the most common criticisms of public campaign financing:

“This is politician welfare, period,” he said. “If the public believes politicians should have their campaign TV, radio ads, and mailer ads paid for with their tax money than they can support this. Most people, I believe, do not want their tax money spent on politicians. People want lower taxes and want education, roads, and other spending priorities funded.”

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.