Campaign Finance Reform – Maine

Date: 1 Dec 2008 | posted in: From the Desk of David Morris, governance, The Public Good | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Maine’s campaign finance law, known as the Clean Elections Act is different from those in other states because those who agree to accept public funding must forego any private contributions (beyond a small amount of “seed money” and qualifying contributions) and run an entirely “clean” campaign.

Thelaw was passed by Maine voters in a referendum in 1996 and came into effect in 2000. As of 2010, candidates who demonstrate citizen support by collecting a set number of $5 (or more) qualifying contributions from voters within their districts (60 contributions for a State House race, 175 for the state Senate, and 3,250 for a gubernatorial race) are eligible for fixed and equal campaign funding from the Clean Election Fund. To receive their money, candidates must agree to forgo all private contributions (including self-financing), and limit their spending to the amount from the fund.

Participating Clean Money candidates are also given an additional one-for-one match if they are outspent by non-complying opponents or are the target of independent expenditures (such as ads produced by a group not associated with the opposing candidate). Candidates who reject the option of Clean Money or who fail to qualify are still free to collect private money under the existing system.

In November 1999, the U.S. District Court for the region upheld the state’s clean election law. A previous attempt to impose expenditure limits on candidates by Congress in 1974 was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. This famous ruling, known as Buckley v.Valeo, equated any attempt to curb campaign spending with a violation of free speech. But in the case of the Maine Clean Election law the federal judge found that spending limits on candidates who accept public funding is not a free speech violation. This is because the system is voluntary, and while it provides “incentives’to make the public financing route attractive,” these incentives are not “overwhelming or of an order that can be said to create profound disparities.”

November 2000 was the first election in which the law was in effect. The Maine Citizen Leadership Fund reports:

1) Out of a total of 351 general election candidates for legislative races, 116 candidates participated in the Clean Election program. 63% of these candidates were Democrats, 34% Republicans, and 3% Greens. About a third were incumbents, including two who opposed clean election reform.

2) The state experienced a 40% increase in the number of contested legislative primaries over the previous primary election.

3) Over half of the Clean Election candidates won their races. Clean Election candidates won 53% of the races where a Clean Election candidate faced off against a privately funded candidate.

4) 17 of 35 senators and 45 of 151 house members are now cleanly elected.

A2004 analysis by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram shows that taxpayer funded campaigns are re-energizing elections in Maine. Here are some statistics from the study:

  • After dropping for years, the number of legislative candidates in Maine primaries has been rising since public financing for political campaigns kicked off in 2000
    • June 1992: 422 candidates
    • June 1994: 419
    • June 1996: 405
    • June 1998: 358
    • June 2000: 374
    • June 2002: 402
    • June 2004: 429
  • The popularity of public financing has surged among primary candidates for the Legislature since its introduction four years ago.
    • 2000: 31 percent of primary candidates are publicly financed
    • 2002: 50 percent
    • 2004: 71 percent

Preliminaryestimates prepared by the state Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, which administers the Clean Election Act, peg costs for the 2004 publicly funded primary campaigns at about $450,000, followed by $2 million to $3 million more in additional payments to the surviving candidates during the post-primary general-election campaign.

In the 2008 general election, 81% of the legislative candidates participated in the MCEA. The Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices has prepared a two-page overview flyer which contains basic information about rates of participation and total payments to candidates.

Maine’s legislature has heard proposals to repeal the law in every session since its passage. There are also moves to strengthen the law by closing the loophole that allows publicly financed candidates to engage in private fundraising on behalf of other candidates.

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