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Maine Lawmakers Revive Effort To Bar Foreign Influence In State Referendums

Robert F. Bukaty
Supporters of "No CMP Corridor" attend a rally after submitting more than 75,000 signatures to election officials at the State Office Building, Monday, Feb. 3, 2020, in Augusta, Maine.

An effort is underway in the Maine Legislature to close a loophole in state election laws allowing foreign-owned companies to influence state ballot campaigns.

Republican Sen. Rick Bennett, of Oxford, and Democratic Rep. Nicole Grohoski, of Ellsworth, are reviving legislation introduced last year designed to block Hydro-Quebec — a Canadian utility — from influencing a ballot initiative that would have killed a controversial power line project through western Maine.

Last year’s proposal died when the Legislature adjourned early because of the pandemic.

The ballot initiative was scuttled by the Maine law court, but not before Hydro-Quebec spent more than $9 million in advertising to persuade Maine voters to reject it.

Activists have gathered signatures for a new ballot question, which means Bennett and Grohoski's bill could bar Hydro-Quebec from participating in the campaign.

The issue of foreign influence in Maine elections was first reported in 2019 by Maine Public Radio, which found that while state law prohibits foreign nationals from influencing candidate elections, it’s silent on the matter of ballot campaigns.

A public hearing on Bennett and Grohoski’s bill has not yet been scheduled.