AUGUSTA, Maine — In the wake of several high-profile court decisions, a ballot initiative here in Maine is expected to garner national attention.
Advocates for Question 1 on the fall ballot launched their campaign today to build support for a measure that will impose new disclosure requirements on donors and harsher penalties on campaign finance law violators.
But the question will likely face active opposition.
Longtime clean elections advocate Andrew Bossie has experienced his share of setbacks.
First the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, then, a year later, the court's ruling in an Arizona case that upended "matching funds" provisions for publicly funded candidates who were being outspent by privately funded opponents.
Bossie, who heads Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, says it's time to change the law at the state level, and revitalize the system.
"Anyone who tells you that this is anything other than building a democracy, that it's anything other than all of our voices being heard is lying to you," Bossie says.
At a rally outside the State House, Bossie and dozens of his supporters in the Mainers for Accountable Elections coalition voiced their support for Question 1, which they say would increase transparency and disclosure by requiring special interest groups to list their top three donors on all political ads, increase accountability with tougher penalties and fines for candidates and special interest groups that break state campaign finance laws and boost the amount of money available to Clean Elections candidates.
Specifically, the state's program would increase from $2 million dollars to $3 million dollars a year, funded in part by the elimination of $6 million dollars in corporate tax breaks that Bossie says are unnecessary.
"To pay for all this, we direct the Legislature to end one or more tax giveaways that has not been deemed that by me, but by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, tax expenditures that have no proven economic benefit to the people of Maine that have been made possible by wealthy special interests making campaign contributions and hiring high-priced lobbyists to distort our government," he says.
Thus far, no organized opposition has emerged, but Bossie says the beneficiaries of those tax breaks are not likely to go down without a fight — although he adds that under current campaign spending laws, he may never know who those opponents actually are.
"I don't think anyone is going to want to come out against democracy, that's what this initiative is about," Bossie says. "We won't know who's behind the spending. I think it's going to be in their best interests to be secret. If we knew who they were and we knew now — we'd be pulling them out."
But not all businesses and corporations oppose the funding provision for Question 1.
"Small businesses owners have always been vital contributors to America," says Suzanne Kelly, a small-business owner from Bangor.
She says that a level political playing field in Maine benefits everyone, including members of the state's business community. She says small-business owners can also feel disenfranchised by big money in politics.
"We play by the rules, we create jobs, we stimulate the economy but our voices have been weakened as well — how can we compete or have a say in elections with big money calling the shots?" Kelly says.
Ironically, Bossie conceded that in his quest to keep out-of-state big money from influencing Maine elections, the campaign for Question 1 will be forced to accept out of state big money, and has racked up more than $600,000 so far.