Bid to fund Maine’s Clean Election system survives — for now

Good morning from Augusta, where the question of whether Maine will have enough money to finance all of this year’s publicly funded candidates is back in the spotlight.

The Maine Senate endorsed a bill on Tuesday to give the taxpayer-funded campaign system a $700,000 boost, but it’s an unlikely to survive a veto. In a 21-14 vote, Democrats and three Republicans turned back a Republican effort to kill a bill to give the state’s Clean Elections system another $700,000 to get through an uncertain 2018 campaign cycle.

The bill already got a party-line vote in the House of Representatives and faces more action in both chambers. But it needs two-thirds support in both chambers to survive any Gov. Paul LePage veto and he has called the system “welfare for politicians.”

But the system may need the money because of increased demand — including from one of the bill’s high-profile opponents. The fund, created by voters in 1996 for state campaigns and expanded in a 2015 referendum, is now in high demand and five gubernatorial candidates have filed to run as publicly financed candidates. The program could run out of money.

The Maine Ethics Commission, which administers the fund, has asked for the money just in case. Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, the only gubernatorial candidate who has qualified to run as a Clean Election gubernatorial candidate so far, voted against the bill on Tuesday, saying on the floor that the system “does not need the money.” 

Three other gubernatorial candidates are attempting to qualify for public funding.The deadline for gubernatorial candidates to qualify is April 2.

A lot of legislative candidates are trying to secure the public funding but few have qualified so far. Among House candidates, 185 are trying to secure the funding but only 11 have qualified so far. In the Senate, there are 58 applications but only three have qualified. Those candidates have until April 20 to qualify.

The bill needs a two-thirds vote to survive any LePage veto and those prospects are looking dim. If it does run out, candidates who don’t receive public funding will have to raise money from private donors.

Hearings on Maine ballot challenges begin tomorrow

The state will hear challenges to candidates’ spot on the June primary ballot — including a spat between two Republican U.S. Senate candidates. The highest-profile battle is between state Sen. Eric Brakey and financial planner Max Linn, who are running for the Republican nomination to take on independent U.S. Sen. Angus King.

Brakey’s campaign alleges that Linn filed petitions with dozens of fraudulent signatures, including four from dead people. A former Maine man living in the United Kingdom said in a Tuesday post on Facebook that his signature was forged on a Linn petition.

After Brakey’s challenge, a Linn operative filed a challenge to Brakey’s petitions, saying without evidence that a notary who worked for the campaign was convicted of rape, though it’s unlikely that those allegations would affect Brakey’s ballot status.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap set a hearing on Brakey’s complaint for Thursday. He will also hear a complaint on the status of Cody Blackburn, a Libertarian legislative candidate from Bangor. The Linn-linked complaint will also be heard on Thursday.

A Republican super PAC is coming to Maine to defend Bruce Poliquin

The Congressional Leadership Fund says it has opened an office in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s district is one of 31 where the super PAC linked to House Speaker Paul Ryan is opening an office. Its president said in a written statement that “we have long known Republicans will face a challenging environment this midterm election cycle.” Poliquin’s former spokesman, Michael Byerly, is now in that job for the super PAC.

Poliquin’s district is being nationally targeted for the third straight campaign cycle and it could be a key cog in Republicans’ efforts to keep the House of Representatives, which may be difficult given President Donald Trump’s underwater approval rating.

However, Maine’s 2nd District has backed Poliquin twice and voted for Trump. There’s also a wide-open Democratic primary between conservationist Lucas St. Clair, Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Jared Golden, builder Jonathan Fulford and bookseller Craig Olson.

Today in A-town

Today marks the first Wednesday this year that the House and Senate have met, but this will be the norm for the rest of the session. Long debates on substantive bills have begun, finally, and as we told you last week, Gov. Paul LePage continues to insert new proposals into the process. In today’s House calendar are new governor’s bills to alter the unemployment insurance system and terminate the Maine Turnpike Authority (which he tried and failed to achieve in 2017). In a bill being introduced in the Senate soon, LePage is also calling for changes to Maine’s Tree Growth Tax law. Those bills will have to go through the committee process — which is otherwise largely finished at this point except for new LePage bills — before coming back to the full Legislature for consideration.

Scheduled for possible House debate this morning are a bill to prevent “food shaming” of students who can’t afford lunch at school and a bill to increase access to addiction recovery homes. As usual during this time of year, a slew of bills appear on the consent calendar, in unfinished business and possibly coming on supplements.

The Senate also has a heavy calendar. Among the items on it is a bill to provide a $45 million tax break for Bath Iron Works, which sailed through the House yesterday (check today’s reading list). Up for enactment are bills involving human trafficking and harassment training for lawmakers, staff and lobbyists, among many others.

Reading list

  • A judge ruled that Maine prosecutors improperly acquired records in the case of a Stockton Springs woman accused of killing her daughter. Superior Court Justice Robert Murray ordered the Maine attorney general’s office on Tuesday to turn over records obtained after an inappropriate subpoena to a New York school attended by Sharon Carrillo, who — with her husband Julio Carrillo — is accused of killing Marissa Kennedy, her 10-year-old daughter, in February. Carillo’s defense team says it may try to get the entire attorney general’s office removed from the case.
  • Gov. Paul LePage backed President Donald Trump’s administration in a court fight with California over ‘sanctuary’ policies. Maine’s governor joined a coalition that includes 16 Republican states on a legal brief saying California “cannot … impede the federal government’s enforcement of immigration laws.” A LePage-backed bill forcing Maine cities and towns to cooperate with federal immigration authorities is on its last legs in the Legislature.
  • Trump signed a Poliquin bill on Monday that will allow Old Town to develop land near its airport. The new law will overturn a 1980s-era deed restriction on property that the Penobscot County city spent $1 million to improve before learning of the restriction. The city has said it has businesses “ready to locate” on the site.
  • A federal appeals court on Monday ruled against Maine parents who wanted their nonverbal son to be able to record his school day. A Boston court sided with a Topsham-based school district in a long-running case on privacy. The parents of a boy with autism wanted permission for him to use a device to record his school day after they suspected bullying. The court ruled that it would likely be “disruptive and detrimental” to his education.
  • Maine’s elver price is at an all-time high. The state’s season for the lucrative baby eels opened on Thursday and the average price offered to fishermen now is between $2,700 and $2,800 per pound due to poor winter harvest in other parts of the world. But only about 1 percent of Maine’s allotment has been caught so far and prices are expected to go down soon.

Same Name Game: Round II

On Monday, I wrote about how I have the same name as an old football player, a bad Dutch singer and a convicted serial killer. Actually, it’s more than one of the latter, but that’s a story for another day.

Minutes after I wrote that, a colleague flagged another example of mistaken identity involving a BDN employee. In its handicapping of the 2018 Maine Senate races, Daily Kos referred to the Republican opponent of Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, as “Matthew Stone of West Gardiner, a columnist for the Bangor Daily News” and said he’s “not a top-tier candidate.”

I know Matthew Stone, the Bangor Daily News writer — not columnist. He is a friend of mine. (Insert Lloyd Bentsen soundtrack.) He’s also the 2017 Maine Journalist of the Year. He is “top-tier” at everything he does.

But he is not a candidate for the Maine Senate from West Gardiner. That would be this guy. Here’s Matt’s soundtrack. You can decide which Matt. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins, Michael Shepherd and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

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.