Sen. Miramant: Maine elections need less money, more openness

At a recent event, former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell told us a story. It was about how party leaders in Washington instruct newly elected members of Congress to divide their day. At a minimum, those new lawmakers are expected to spend one and a half hours on legislation, two hours for constituent services, and four hours for fundraising.

Now, I’m no mathematician. But I can tell you that means new members of Congress are expected to spend more time courting donors than they are doing the people’s work.

There’s something wrong with this picture.

When I talk to Mainers in my district, they tell me how unhappy they are with what has become of politics and elections in our state and in our country. The presence of big, often untraceable money is a key concern.

Maine has always been a leader in the effort to combat money’s corrosive effect on elections. Our public financing system was among the first of its kind when it was launched in 2000, and voters have repeatedly supported efforts to keep Clean Elections strong.

And it’s worked! Just look at this year’s primary results in Maine. As often as not, Clean Elections candidates defeated traditionally financed ones. That shows that publicly financed candidates can compete with private donors and win. It means candidates have a real choice: They can spend campaign time and energy courting donors, or they can spend that time meeting their constituents and talking about the issues that matter.

Mainers also stood up for transparency last year, when they supported a referendum that increased transparency on outside campaign spending. Starting this year, third-party attack ads and mailers are required to disclose the top three sources of their funding.

But the oversize role of money isn’t the only problem with our elections. This year’s presidential nominating contests revealed the shortcomings of Maine’s caucus system. Too many Mainers had to drive long distances or wait in line for hours to participate. The end result was lots of voters opted out entirely.

Elections must be accessible, simple and convenient. That’s why the Legislature acted this year to get Maine on track to ditch caucuses hold presidential primaries instead.

Elections are important. They have consequences. Recently the governor — the top elected official in our state — has threatened to end food stamps in Maine. That would take food off the table of more than 190,000 food-insecure Mainers.

With so much at stake in the results, we owe it to ourselves and to future generations to get elections right. That means less unaccountable money and more access to the ballot for all eligible voters.

Photo via Andi Parkinson.

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