Maine Clean Election battle could heat up this week

Good morning from Augusta, where an already contentious election-year legislative session may get more complicated with wrangling over funding the campaign finance referendum that passed in November.

You’ll likely recall that Question 1 contained a host of election reforms. They included new disclosure requirements and increased penalties for violations.

But the most important and controversial change was that it increased money paid to the Maine Clean Election Fund, which publicly finances state elections, from $2 million annually to $3 million.

It didn’t specify how that increase will be paid for, only directing the Legislature to pass a bill eliminating “low-performing, unaccountable” corporate tax breaks. The Legislature hasn’t acted on that yet this year.

Now, some Republican lawmakers are making noise about a bill put forward by the Maine Ethics Commission — which administers the fund — that will have a public hearing Tuesday.

That bill wouldn’t pick a funding source, but it would simply advance a state payment to the fund so it has enough money to give to qualifying candidates. Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, a member of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee, said on Facebook that he won’t support it and most top Republicans opposed the referendum.

It’s also unclear that the law’s changes will be funded voluntarily by Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration: The state controller moved the previous $2 million annual allocation to the fund late last year, but as of Friday, the extra $1 million wasn’t moved, according to Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the ethics commission.

The Maine Constitution says that if a ballot initiative “entails expenditure in an amount in excess of available and unappropriated state funds,” they’re inoperative for 45 days after the start of the next legislative session.

That deadline was Saturday and State Controller Doug Cotnoir and Department of Administrative and Financial Services spokesman David Heidrich didn’t respond to a Friday afternoon question on whether the money would be moved.

This could put more pressure on legislative Democrats to find a funding source quickly, but Republicans could fight it. — Michael Shepherd

Clinton brings Planned Parenthood head to Maine for Sunday event

Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s Maine campaign brought two top surrogates, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, to a Portland event on Sunday.

Richards’ abortion rights advocacy group endorsed Clinton in January, and Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, was an early endorser of Clinton in 2014. Both appeared at a “Women for Hillary” event in Portland after Richards spoke at a small event in Kennebunk, according to WCSH.

It’s the first major campaign event since the Clinton campaign opened offices in Portland, Lewiston, Bangor and Augusta over the past week ahead of the March 6 caucuses, where Clinton opponent Bernie Sanders could fare well. — Michael Shepherd

Poliquin recites height jokes on ‘Nite Show’

I don’t like to poke fun at people’s height because I’m 6’5″ and almost everyone’s short to me, but “The Nite Show with Danny Cashman” has beaten all of us to the jokes about U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin.

On Saturday, the diminutive Republican from Maine’s 2nd District went on the show, greeting the audience on a step stool and reciting a few jokes that host Dan Cashman (who was spokesman for Democrat Emily Cain, Poliquin’s opponent, in 2014) has told about him over the years.

Among them:

  • “Congressman Poliquin is really excited about his new job. He hasn’t even started yet and he said it’s the best job since he was one of the Munchkins on ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ “
  • “The new Star Wars movie opens in theaters on Friday, so if you see a little hairy creature dancing around excitedly outside a movie theater next week, it might a new Star Wars fan dressed as an Ewok or it could be Congressman Poliquin in a fur coat.” — Michael Shepherd

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Rubio hangin’ tough in Nevada

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio held a rally on Sunday ahead of tomorrow’s Nevada caucuses, and among his supporters was … actor and New Kids on the Block founding member Donnie Wahlberg.

Rubio hasn’t won any of the three states that have held GOP primaries or caucuses so far and needs a good performance in Nevada. But he’s running in third place, according to polling averages from RealClearPolitics, with frontrunner Donald Trump 23 percentage points ahead of him.

In a statement, Wahlberg said Rubio “is a man of principle who can be trusted to keep us safe and give each and every one of us a shot at the American Dream.”

So, you could say that with Wahlberg’s help, Rubio is “hangin’ tough” in Nevada. I’ll show myself out.— Michael Shepherd, h/t to Christopher Cousins

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.