Democrats, Republicans agree to raid Maine Clean Election fund, but not on how much

Good morning from Augusta, where the Maine Legislature came in on Monday to deal with 43 vetoes from Gov. Paul LePage. But Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives left deadlocked on a way to restart taxpayer funding for elections.

That has emerged as the issue likely to unlock a way for lawmakers to finish work for 2018. Now, money in Maine’s Clean Election program is stranded because of a legislative drafting error whose fix has been held up by House Republicans in a leverage battle with Democrats.

The Legislature isn’t expected back until the week of July 23. But before lawmakers left, we got to see House Democrats’ and House Republicans’ proposals for unlocking funding to the program. Both involved cuts and they weren’t that far apart on the issue.

The difference is $500,000 and one tier of payments to gubernatorial and legislative candidates. Under current law, candidates for governor in a general election get $600,000 and then are supposed to be able to qualify for up to $1.4 million more by submitting eight rounds of 1,200 qualifying $5 contributions. Initial payments for state Senate and House candidates are $20,275 and $5,075, and they can qualify for supplemental payments of up to $40,600 and $10,200 more by submitting eight rounds of 45 and 15 qualifying contributions, all respectively.

Any error fix would need healthy support from House Republicans to get by LePage, an ardent opponent of the Clean Election program who is now being sued by advocates for not allowing $1.4 million in funding to be distributed to candidates last month. They want to water down the program if it is to be fixed.

On Monday, Assistant House Minority Leader Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, proposed an amendment that would take $2 million out of the Clean Election fund, replace it in 2019 and eliminate the final two tiers of supplemental funding, capping gubernatorial campaigns at $1.05 million, Senate races at $30,450 and House races at $7,650 while also banning campaign fundraising at polling places.

A proposal from Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, was similar. It would raid the fund of $1.5 million, replace it in 2019, ban fundraising at polling places and only remove the last tier of supplemental funding. The caps would be $1.225 million for gubernatorial campaigns, $35,525 for Senate campaigns and $8,925 for House campaigns.

Only the Democratic proposal went to a vote and it didn’t get enough support. Only seven Republicans backed Luchini’s proposal in an initial vote, keeping it short of the two-thirds majority that it would eventually need to pass as an emergency bill and survive a LePage veto. So, the Legislature left, keeping the Republican priority of conforming to the federal tax code from passing for now because it is the leverage Democrats hold.

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, predicted that outcome just before the vote, saying while this was an error, “it’s called a statute” now and his side will likely get “a better deal” on the Clean Election program with more time.

There was frustration at the end of the day from other leaders, including Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, who supports restoring the funding and told the chamber before leaving that he hoped the Legislature could quickly finish “important work” left.

House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said by later this month, she hopes the “work and conversations we continue to have will be fruitful and will allow us to finally conclude the 128th Legislature.”

“But we’ll see,” she said.

Collins, King won’t commit on Kavanaugh

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins faces an enormous amount of pressure. She’s one of two or three Republican senators who could foil President Donald Trump’s nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. Collins is one of the few Republicans who has voted against her party on a handful of major issues, and Kavanaugh’s opponents are already looking — and launching ad campaigns — for her vote against him.

But so far, Collins is noncommittal on Trump’s Monday night announcement, saying in a statement that Kavanaugh has “impressive credentials and extensive experience” and promising a “careful, thorough vetting” that includes a public hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee and an interview with him in her office.

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, who caucuses with the Democrats, said he will also examine Kavanaugh’s record, but “will do so with some skepticism” because of Trump’s promises to choose justices who are anti-abortion , would dismantle the Affordable Care Act and who oppose new limits on executive power. A Senate vote on the nomination is expected this fall.

Will angry watchdogs be calmed?

Maine’s health and human services chief has reportedly committed to attend a watchdog panel meeting today. Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Ricker Hamilton has indicated he will attend this morning’s Government Oversight Committee hearing in Augusta, where the topic of discussion is the state’s safety net for abused or neglected children. Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said this morning that Hamilton has said he will attend the meeting after being subpoenaed by the committee when no one from his department attended a June 28 meeting.

That caused anger from Katz and other members of the committee who are working on a package of recommendations for the Legislature in response to the violent deaths of two young Maine girls, allegedly at the hands of their caregivers. The hearing follows a preliminary report by the Office of Program and Government Accountability that identified deficiencies and a committee vote to deepen the probe.

Last month, after previously promising participation by DHHS officials, LePage said he held Hamilton back from the hearing because he feared open questioning would violate confidentiality standards and possibly compromise ongoing investigations. Today’s meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m.

Reading list

  • Maine voters will decide whether to borrow $200 million more in November. Legislators on Monday approved three bond question proposals, highlighted by a $106 million borrowing request that state transportation officials are counting on to continue maintenance of the state’s roads, bridges and piers. A second bond — for $64 million — would underwrite facilities upgrades at Maine’s universities and community colleges. At least another $49 million in private funds would flow to campus projects if voters approve that measure. The third bond question will ask voters to authorize borrowing $30 million for improvements at wastewater treatment plants.
  • A plan to pay the startup costs for Medicaid expansion in Maine died Monday. As expected, enough Republicans in the House of Representatives united to sustain LePage’s veto of a bill designed to pay the administrative costs of processing applications from people who would become eligible for Medicaid under a citizen-initiated law that voters passed in November 2017. The next round of the long, bitter battle over Medicaid expansion in Maine will play out in the courts, where it is already underway. The next key date in the legal wrangling is July 18, when the Maine Supreme Judicial Court will consider LePage’s appeal of a lower court ruling that his administration must send an implementation plan to the federal government. The voter-approved law set July 2 as the first date of eligibility for Mainers who qualify under the expanded eligibility guidelines, and advocates have said they will sue on behalf of those people.
  • In other veto news, the governor batted a little better than .500 on his latest veto volley. In addition to the Medicaid expansion funding bill, lawmakers sustained 22 other LePage vetoes while overriding 20. Among the latter were bills to arm forest rangers, funnel more money to county jails and an overhaul of the state’s medical marijuana law. LePage prevailed in his efforts to thwart bills that would ban so-called “conversion therapy” and revive a shuttered Washington County prison, among others. Click here for a complete rundown of Monday’s veto votes.
  • Someone drew penises on a statue and walls in Bangor. The graffiti showed up Sunday on the Lady Victory War Memorial and on buildings along Central Street. City crews cleaned the graffiti off public property on Monday. The owner of Central Street Farmhouse said she planned to do so as soon as she could get some removal solution.

Cat-astrophe averted

Beth Brogan, the BDN’s resident southern Maine animal welfare reporter, on Monday told the harrowing tale of two kittens that were rescued after an allegedly inebriated woman apparently dunked them in a Phippsburg pond.

A police officer who responded to the incident said that the woman was trying to feed an egg salad sandwich to the emaciated kitties. As a veteran feline foster parent, I would have suggested tuna.

In any case, the kittens are now under the expert care of the Coastal Humane Society. Click here if you want to help defray the cost of their care. Here is their soundtrack. — 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.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at, or

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.