Gov. LePage ignores state law, refuses to fund Clean Elections

Gov. LePage ignores state law, refuses to fund Clean Elections

Even with some debate in the legislature’s Taxation Committee over what corporate tax loopholes, if any, to close to fund the program, one thing seemed clear: Maine’s Clean Elections system would be expanded this year. After all, voters had just endorsed the re-empowered program at the polls in November

Now, however, Governor Paul LePage has thrown a wrench in the works of Maine’s system of public campaign financing, apparently directing the State Controller to withhold $1 million in funding for the program, using a bureaucratic loophole to abrogate state law.

“By refusing to transfer the funding, the administration is blatantly defying the will of Maine voters,” said Andrew Bossie, executive director of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections. “Voters spoke loud and clear in November with a 10-point margin of victory. We want a strong and fully funded Clean Election law to keep our lawmakers accountable to us, everyday voters, not wealthy campaign donors.”

Prior to November’s referendum, Maine’s Clean Election Act was allocated $2 million in funding a year. Question 1 increased that funding to $3 million and made changes to allow Clean Election candidates to better compete with privately-financed candidates. By law, the additional $1 million in funding should have been transferred no later than Feb. 22, 2016. As of Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, the money has yet to be transferred, and there are no signs from the controller or the governor’s office that they intend to respect the voice of Maine people and transfer the funds.

“By a wide margin Democrats, Republicans, Greens and independents want to reduce the role of money in politics. They want a strong and fully funded Clean Election law, timely transparency, and government accountability,” said Ed Youngblood, a former Republican State Senator from Brewer and MCCE board member. “This isn’t a partisan issue. This is a matter of respect for the rule of law as voters intended. The money should be transferred to the Clean Election Fund immediately. We can’t ignore the result of the election just because we don’t agree with the outcome. That’s why we have the citizen-initiative process.”

As of Feb. 22, 74 percent of all registered candidates for state legislature have already filed their intention to use Clean Elections to finance their 2016 races. This figure is up significantly from 2014 when 53 percent of candidates used Clean Elections, but not quite as high as 2008 when 81 percent of legislative candidates used Clean Elections.

To qualify for the program, candidates must demonstrate local support by collecting small-dollar donations from voters within their own districts. Unlike privately financed candidates, Clean Election candidates are forbidden to raise money from special interests for their political ambitions. Maine voters enacted changes at the ballot this fall to restore Maine’s Clean Election law after the courts and legislature weakened it.

“The voters have spoken; and now candidates from all parties are signing up in large numbers to use our improved, voter-centered Clean Election law, which will elevate the voice of everyday people in our elections. It’s time for Gov. LePage to listen by ensuring that the new system is fully funded,” said Bossie.

Photo: Governor Paul LePage at a town hall event in Ellsworth, via Sue Aubrey

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