Maine Lawmakers Working On Clean Election Fixes
Lawmakers in Augusta must fix part of Maine’s clean election act that is similar to an Arizona law that was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Members of the public got to add their input Tuesday.The Maine Clean Election Act was designed to level the financial playing field by providing money to publicly funded candidates who face privately funded opponents.Lawmakers spent their day hearing proposals that, if enacted, would replace the matching funds provision that was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme court. There are two main proposals on the table.The first would provide fixed amounts to each clean election candidate for the primary and general elections. “This proposal has the virtue of somplicity,” says Jonathan Wayne, the Executive Director of the Maine Commission on Government Ethics and Election Practices. Wayne says his staff estimates this proposal would not meet the needs of 10%-20% of the legislative candidates who were projected to join in 2012. Under the proposal House candidates would get a maximum of $7716. Candidates would have to collect 60 qualifying contributions of $5 each from people in their district by April 20th.Senate candidates could receive a maximum of just over $33,617, but must collect 175 qualifying contributions.The second proposal would create a tiered system that would provide a basic level of funding to most 2012 general election candidates, but would also allow candidates to qualify for up to two supplemental payments by collecting a greater number of $5 qualifying contributions. That could net House candidates between $6500 and $11,500. Denate candidates could get between $30,000 and $55,000. The Ethics Commission projects 18% of House candidates and 25% of Senate candidates would invest the additional effort in qualifying for the supplemental payments.This proposal garnered the most support tuesday. “We believe there should not be a price tag on democracy,” Maureen Nagy of The Maine People’s Alliance told lawmakers on Tuesday. “Without fair elections, there cannot be fair policy and the only way to ensure fairness is to make sure all the players are playing by the same rules.” Opponents of the second proposal included Governor LePage’s Chief Counsel Dan Billings who told lawmakers it would be impossible to estimate the cost to taxpayers. “If you change the rules you change the game,” billings said, “and we have no data to base assumptions on in regards to what that type of system would cost.”Billings also told the committee there is another option. “I think one very viable option for this committee is to simply to vote out legislation that repeals the unconstitutional parts of the law and leaves the rest of the system in place as is,” he said to lawmakers. Members of the public, like Ellory Keene of Winslow, also had a few ideas. “What if the state of Maine could facilitate raising non-tax dollars to counter the influence of these private dollars? What if our state income tax form had a place to designate an additional dollar, not a tax dollar, for this purpose?” Keene asked the committee. “I believe government in Maine and also at the national level should be as expressed by Abraham Lincoln. Of the people. For the people and by the people. It should not be of the most wealthy, for the most wealthy, and by the most wealthy,” Keene added.The committee has until December 1st to make their recommendation to the legislature.