Big Money’s Influence On Maine Elections Part One

Updated 2 years ago

Money is playing a bigger role in the outcomes of our elections.Last year, Democrats recaptured control of the Maine legislature after losing the majority to the Republicans in 2010. Experts have identified two reasons: unhappiness with Governor Paul LePage and big money.Last November marked the most expensive election in Maine history. The amount of money being spent on elections is staggering to political experts like James Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine at Farmington and author. He says the landmark “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision got the ball rolling. That landmark decision tossed out the corporate and union ban on making independent expenditures in elections. It gave corporations and unions the green light to spend unlimited sums on ads and other political tools, calling for the election or defeat of individual candidates. The controversial 5-4 decision decision allows corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they want to convince people to vote for or against a candidate. “I was surprised they went so far as to come up with such a blanket idea of just how expansive campaign spending could be by corporations and independent expenditures,” Melcher said. “I didn’t see that coming at all. But now I can see the matching funds ruling out of Arizona. They kind of want this to be wild west campaign finance now.” The Supreme Court rejected Arizona’s system of providing additional funding to publicly funded candidates when they face big-spending opponents or opposition groups, ruling the matching funds provision unconstitutional. Since Arizona mirrored their clean elections law after our law here in Maine, it was that Supreme Court ruling that set off Maine’s campaign spending spree. “Without matching funds, a clean election candidate is not in as good a position to respond to somebody who’s running traditional,” Melcher said. Gorham Democrat Jim Boyle came to that same conclusion when he decided to run for the State Senate Seat in District 6. “I just didn’t think I’d be able to make it,” Boyle said. “Once I found out that there would not be matching funds, and at the same time that my opponent would have very deep pockets, that’s when I decided clean elections wouldn’t work for me.” His decision not to run as a clean elections candidate proved to be the right one. Roughly $250,000 was spent on his race, which he barely won. Senator Garett Mason, an Androscoggin County Republican, found a target on his back during the last election cycle. Being one of the leading proponents for school choice in Maine caused a Political Action Committee to put Mason in the their crosshairs. “You have some of those Political Action Committees were put together, I think, to fake out Maine people. Especially the ‘Committee to Rebuild Maine’s Middle Class.’ That was a front for the unions,” Mason said. According to campaign finance reports, the “Committee to Rebuild Maine’s Middle Class” dumped $469,799.50 into state races. That includes nearly $49,129.38 “to oppose” Garett Mason. The Maine Education Association (teacher’s union), which fiercely opposed the school choice bill Mason had sponsored, contributed more than $50,000 to the “Committee to Rebuild Maine’s Middle Class.” Despite their efforts, Mason narrowly won his seat while being outspent 3-1. “If you’re limited to $20,000 in a Senate race and you have $200,000 spent against you, you’re hindering yourself,” Mason said. Former lawmaker Lois Snowe-Mello was ahead in the polls until she says more than $200,000 was dumped into her race by the opposition, much of it from out of state. The Committee to Rebuild Maine’s Middle Class spent nearly $70,000 to oppose her. Snowe-Mello says she found herself on their hit list after sponsoring the “Right to Work” bill that would have made union membership optional. Snowe-Mello, who ran as a clean elections candidate with a budget of just over $20,000, didn’t stand much of a chance once the money started rolling in. “They were hiring people to go door-to-door to spread fictitious and misinformation to my constituents.” Snowe-Mello eventually lost her lead in the polls and the Senate race shortly after that “boots on the ground” campaign began. Everyone we talked to agreed that it’s next to impossible to get money out of politics, but a more informed electorate could be a big step in reducing the power money has in wields. “I think it becomes the responsibility of Maine citizens to find out the truth,” Mason said. “They have to wade thought the mail, they have to wade through the TV advertisements, and find out what the truth is.”You can view all campaign finance reports online at:http://www.mainecampaignfinance.com/Public/home.asp


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