Maine Senate Endorses Plan To Bolster State's Clean Election Fund

Mar 28, 2018

The Maine Senate voted 21-14 today to add $700,000 to Maine's public campaign financing program.

The program, known as the Maine Clean Election Act, currently has over $6 million, but administrators say more may be needed because of its heavy use by gubernatorial and legislative candidates this year. 

During the floor debate, Democratic Sen. Mike Carpenter, of Houlton, said it's important to protect the program that Republicans and Democrats use to finance their campaigns.

"The majority of legislative candidates, both parties - I haven't done the math, but I believe - taking advantage of this grassroots law that has served us so well," Carpenter said.

Most Senate Republicans voted to block the funding proposal, including Senate leader Garrett Mason, of Lisbon Falls. Mason is the only gubernatorial candidate to qualify for clean election funding, but he voted against a proposal designed to make sure the program has enough money to get through the election.

"The argument before us is not whether you like Clean Elections, nor is it, is it a beneficial program. The argument is does the fund need more money?" Mason said.

Several Republicans joined Democrats to send it to the House, which has already given it preliminary approval.

The Maine Clean Elections program provides public funding for candidates running for the Legislature and governor if they collect a certain number of $5 donations.

The program already has $6.4 million, and another $3 million will be added at the end of the fiscal year in June. However, the Maine Ethics Commission, which administers the program, has requested more funding because the number of candidates seeking to use it in the upcoming election skyrocketed last year.

The Ethics Commission was particularly concerned last year that nearly nine gubernatorial candidates would gobble up the funding, pushing the program's cost to over $11 million this year.

However, the gubernatorial field has since narrowed and only three of the 12 candidates who have qualified for the ballot are now seeking public financing.

The Ethics Commission projects that more than 270 legislative candidates - Democrats, Republicans and Green Independents - will qualify for public funding. 

Despite the heavy use of the program by party candidates, Republican legislators often vote against it, arguing that it's welfare for politicians. Republican Gov. Paul LePage is among those who oppose the public financing law and his administration took several moves to gut the program after he first took office in 2011.

In 2015, voters backed a ballot initiative that added more funding to the program.

Nevertheless, LePage is expected to veto the current funding proposal. If he does, then more Republican support will be needed to override him. A two-thirds vote by the House and Senate is needed to override a veto.  Neither vote in the House or Senate has met the two-thirds threshold.

This story was originally published March 27, 2018 at 2:11 p.m. ET.