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Group Wants To Bolster Clean Elections Using Money Spent On 'Wasteful' Program

Lawmakers should scuttle a costly economic development initiative and use the savings to pay for Maine's public campaign finance program, according to the Maine Citizens for Clean Elections.

The group's acting director says doing so will fulfill a voter-backed directive to do away with ineffective tax giveaways and bolster the Clean Elections program.

Those assertions follow a new report by the Legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, or OPEGA, which found that a 13-year-old costly economic development initiative is poorly designed and lacks accountability.

The group’s executive director, John Brautigam, says Pine Tree is exactly the type of wasteful economic program that Mainers voted to do away with.

“We see a linkage between tax incentive programs that cannot be justified — that kind of inefficiency and waste, and the problem of money in politics. So we’d like to see solutions to both of those problems, and that’s what we see tied together in the citizen initiative,” he says.

In 2015, voters approved a ballot initiative that beefed up Maine’s Clean Elections law. It allows candidates for governor and the Legislature to qualify for public funds to run their campaigns if they gather enough small-dollar donations. The idea behind the program is that soliciting small donations will make candidates more responsive to their constituents, not just wealthy donors.

The success of the program is hotly debated in Augusta. But two years ago voters approved $6 million in new funding, and also directed the state to identify failing economic development initiatives. That has not happened, although lawmakers have increased funding to the Clean Elections program.

OPEGA’s review of Pine Tree was not a direct result of the 2015 ballot initiative. But Brautigam says the review should prompt lawmakers to spike Pine Tree, which costs about $12 million a year.

Some lawmakers agree, but the LePage administration has defended Pine Tree. The program is set to sunset in 2018.

This story was originally published on Aug. 28, 2017 at 3:27 p.m. ET.