Deadline looms for candidates to qualify for public funding

Posted March 28, 2010, at 9:44 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Another deadline is quickly approaching for some of the best-known contenders in the race for the Blaine House.

Candidates hoping to receive public campaign financing have until 5 p.m. Thursday to prove they have enough public support and organizational strength to qualify for funding through the Maine Clean Elections Act program.

Specifically, candidates must clear two hurdles to qualify.

First, they must collect 3,250 donations of $5 or more for the Maine Clean Election Fund. The second threshold requires candidates to collect $40,000 in campaign “seed money” for their campaigns from registered Maine voters, but the donations must be in amounts of $100 or less.

Sen. Peter Mills, a Cornville Republican and the only GOP gubernatorial candidate to seek public campaign financing, has already filed the requisite paperwork and is apparently awaiting confirmation from the Maine Ethics Commission.

The campaigns of the three Democrats running as Clean Election candidates — Patrick McGowan of Hallowell, John Richardson of Brunswick and Senate President Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell of Vassalboro — all said Friday that they expect to meet the deadline.

“It has been a challenge … but we will certainly be there on April 1,” said Mitchell.

“We are well on our way to meeting the goal of getting qualified,” added Monica Castellanos, spokeswoman for the Richardson campaign. Castellanos said Richardson has raised the $40,000 and is “on target” to get the 3,250 donations of $5.

McGowan’s campaign manager, Brandon Maheu, said they have hit their marks. Volunteers are now working to make sure all of the necessary paperwork is in order, he said.

“The process is supposed to be difficult,” Maheu said. “There is a reason it is set up the way it is.”

Qualified Republican and Democratic party candidates will receive $400,000 each for the primary and $600,000 if they make it to the general election. In return, the candidates agree not to accept private donations or contributions from special interest groups.

Unenrolled candidates Christopher Cambron, Daniel Albert and John Whitcomb have also indicated they plan to seek qualification for public financing. They must meet the same criteria as the party candidates, but since they have no primary, they would get money for only the general election if they qualify.

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Two Maines?

People may talk about the existence of two Maines. But legislative leaders voted this week to ensure that the word “Mainer” applies equally to people from Kittery to Estcourt Station.

Rep. Henry Joy, R-Crystal, attempted to introduce legislation that would divide Maine into two. The northern part, encompassing most of the state’s northern, eastern and western counties, would retain the name Maine. The rest of the state, Joy proposed, could be called “Northern Massachusetts.”

Joy revived his “two Maines” bill after reading about an effort to attract federal funding for the “Keeping Maine’s Forests” initiative.

The broad array of parties involved in the forests initiative — including large timberland owners, paper mills, environmental groups and state agencies — say their aim is to simultaneously strengthen Maine’s forest products industry while protecting natural areas.

To Joy, the initiative sounded like another attempt at a national park.

On Thursday, the bipartisan members of the Legislative Council voted 9-1 to reject Joy’s request to introduce the late bill.

Senate Minority Leader Kevin Raye, R-Perry, said he understood the frustration underlying Joy’s bill but added, “I am not ready to give up.”

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As of Friday evening, lawmakers still had more than 100 items left on their legislative plates.

Legislative leaders said they still hope to adjourn well before the statutory deadline of April 21. But with President Barack Obama expected to visit Portland next Thursday and the Easter holiday weekend starting Friday, it seems highly unlikely they will finish next week.

Here are a few of the bigger items still pending:

Budget: Lawmakers are expected to begin working Tuesday on the bipartisan plan to close a $310 million budget gap. A vote could take place Tuesday or Wednesday.

Bonds: Public hearings will be held Monday and Wednesday on proposals to seek voter approval for additional bond packages. Gov. John Baldacci has proposed a $79 million package, while legislative leaders want a $99 million package. The hearings will be held at 1 p.m. on both days in the Appropriations Committee.

Solitary confinement: Both chambers will consider which, if any, of three conflicting committee reports to accept on a bill proposing additional restrictions on the use of long-term isolation in state prisons. It is unclear what day the bill will be debated.

Gambling: Lawmakers will also consider a proposal to add another referendum question on the November ballot to authorize a resort casino in Oxford County, a casino on Passamaquoddy tribal land in Washington County and table games at Hollywood Slots in Bangor. The Oxford County proposal is already slated for the ballot as a stand-alone question.

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