What’s at stake in the Legislature’s fight over public campaign financing

Good morning from Augusta. The Legislature is set to return to Augusta next week to handle dozens of vetoes from Gov. Paul LePage amid a large pile of outstanding work. One of the chief items is the authorization of Clean Election funding for the 2018 campaigns.

A fix to a legislative drafting error that has kept the fund from making payments to taxpayer-funded candidates since the new fiscal year began on July 1 has been held up by Republicans in the House of Representatives in a battle with Democrats.

Candidates also had their last payments slashed last month after LePage refused to allow a routine transfer and he was sued over it. Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, the advocacy group that is leading the lawsuit, has said their legal argument also applies after July 1 — meaning they could sue again if the Legislature doesn’t make the fix.

Long story short, it’s a mess. We’re not sure how it’s going to be resolved after the Legislature’s scheduled return on Monday. But we do know that most of the key races in both chambers feature at least one or two Clean Election candidates. Slim majorities in both the House and Senate mean that this battle could affect control of the Legislature.

A lack of further Clean Election funding would affect Democrats more, but many key Senate Republicans are also in the program. That’s likely part of the reason why majority Senate Republicans have been open to a fix while the more conservative group of House Republicans, who are in the minority, have been less open to one.

At our last count in June, 77 percent of Democratic legislative candidates are running as Clean Election candidates to just 27 percent of Republicans. But 40 percent of Senate Republicans are using it and they include some of their top-tier candidates in the chamber, where the GOP has a 18-17 majority. In several races that are likely to be competitive, Senate candidates in both parties are using the program.

That includes the re-election race for Sen. Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, against former Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman. Both Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and his Republican opponent, former Rep. Mike Nadeau, R-Fort Kent, are using it. The same is true for the open-seat race between House Majority Leader Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, and her Republican opponent, former Rep. Jayne Crosby Giles.

However, Democrats could be hurt in a few key races. Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, is running as a Clean Election candidate for an open seat against Rep. Richard Malaby, R-Hancock, a privately financed candidate. The same is true in a race where Democrats are hoping to give Assistant Senate Majority Leader Amy Volk a scare by running former Rep. Linda Sanborn, D-Gorham, against her.

Some of the key House races are more one-sided when it comes to Clean Elections. In the House, Democrats are more adversely impacted. They’re running with Clean Elections money in several key seats, including the rematches between Rep. Stedman Seavey, R-Kennebunkport, and Democrat Diane Denk and Rep. Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, and former Rep. Bob Saucier, D-Presque Isle. Republicans could suffer in one race, where former state Sen. John Nutting, D-Leeds, is facing Clean Election candidate Joshua Morris, a Republican.

Sometimes, the impact of money in legislative races can be overstated. If this continues, more of the onus could be on central party committees to pick up the fundraising slack and run ads on their candidates’ behalf. It’s really hard to tell how this will hit races because we just haven’t been here before.

LePage assesses gubernatorial field

He predictably praised the Republican and hit the Democrat, but called an independent ‘a true Democrat.’ The Republican governor broke his relative silence on this year’s race to replace him Thursday with an unsurprising endorsement of Republican nominee Shawn Moody and some perhaps more surprising comments about independent State Treasurer Terry Hayes.

LePage did not explicitly endorse Moody until Thursday, though LePage’s support for the Gorham businessman has been obvious. Some of LePage’s staff are working for Moody, including his daughter, Lauren LePage, and first lady Ann LePage endorsed Moody in May during the Republican state convention.

“Frankly, I believe I’ve done the heavy lifting now and I’ve put the state on a fairly good financial footing and I think we need somebody that can carry it forward,” LePage said. “I’m all in for Shawn Moody.”

LePage criticized Attorney General Janet Mills, the Democratic nominee who he has been clashing with for years, saying her election would lead to “more of the [former Gov. John] Baldacci years of red ink.” He had kinder words for state Hayes, a former Democratic legislator.

“She’s truly a Democrat, unlike what we have in Augusta these days,” said LePage. “She’s a good person. I just don’t think she’s heavy enough to carry the state forward.”

As for independent hopeful Alan Caron, LePage was dismissive. “They’re coming out of the rocks,” he said.

Reading list

  • LePage says Roe v. Wade should not be a litmus test for U.S. Supreme Court nominees. Though he favors repeal of the 1973 decision that decriminalized abortion, LePage said during a radio interview Thursday that nominees shouldn’t be disqualified because they won’t vote to overturn the decision. The statement was aimed at Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who has said she will not vote for any nominee who has “demonstrated hostility” to Roe v. Wade.
  • Scott Pruitt is out. President Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency director resigned Thursday after months of controversy around his travel spending, security costs, dealings with industry lobbyists and misuse of government resources. Deputy EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler will assume the acting administrator positions Monday.
  • Fishermen in disputed waters off Maine’s coast are encountering border patrol agents. Canadian fishermen around Machias Seal Island are being questioned about illegal immigration by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents. There have been 21 contacts between the agency and fishermen since October 2017. There is a disputed “Gray Zone” of disputed territorial waters around the island, which lies about 12 miles southwest of the Canadian island of Grand Manan and 12 miles southeast of the Maine village of Cutler.

Adieu to a long week

We shouldn’t be complaining, but it’s been a doozy of a week. Independence Day is one of the great holidays of the year, but falling on a Wednesday made coming back to work Thursday seem worse than the worst Monday ever. The soaking blanket of heat hasn’t helped either.

But it’s Friday, the heat is lifting and you’ll need a light jacket in the morning. Here’s your soundtrack.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd. 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.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at ccousins@bangordailynews.com or mshepherd@bangordailynews.com.

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.