AUGUSTA, Maine — Four candidates for governor — three Democrats and one Republican — likely will qualify for public campaign funds this election year.
Thursday afternoon is the deadline for gubernatorial candidates to meet the qualifications for public funds under Maine’s 1996 Clean Election Act.
Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, a watchdog group that monitors use of public campaign funds, said Wednesday that none of the three independent candidates for governor seeking public funds would come close to qualifying. Other independents are relying on private funds.
“We can say the field just got narrowed, but not in any meaningful way,” said Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine. “I can’t see any scenario in which any of the independents, even if they had qualified, would have had any influence on the election.”
Maine Citizens said Democrat John Richardson is expected to qualify as are Democrats Patrick McGowan and Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell. McGowan and Mitchell declared earlier this week that they had met the threshold to qualify for public funds. Other Democrats seeking the party nomination — Steven Rowe and Rosa Scar-celli — are relying on private funding.
Last week, the state Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices certified Republican Peter Mills to receive public campaign funds. The six other Republican candidates are relying on private campaign money. They are Steve Abbott, Bill Beardsley, Matt Jacobson, Paul LePage, Bruce Poliquin and Les Otten.
The primaries are June 8. Democratic Gov. John Baldacci cannot seek a third term because of term limits.
Brewer said the failure of a Green Independent Party candidate to stay in the race could have a much bigger influence in the gubernatorial election because Greens tend to draw votes away from Democrats. Green Independent Lynne Williams suspended her campaign in mid-March.
Voters authorized the Clean Election Act in hopes of diminishing the influence of special interests in campaigns and elections. The law imposes tough eligibility requirements and recipients cannot raise private funds in general.
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.
This year, the total cost for all Clean Election-funded gubernatorial and legislative races could reach $8.5 million to $9 million, but could go even higher if publicly financed candidates win both Democratic and GOP primaries, state officials say.
Under the law, legislative candidates have until April 21 to qualify for campaign funds.
BDN writer Kevin Miller contributed to this report.