June 21, 2018
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Send super-PAC money packing from Senate race


Cynthia Dill, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, has responded to an invitation by the leading candidate, independent Angus King, to join in opposing the expected huge flow of out-of-state money into their campaign.

Dill originally said King’s June 13 proposal “lacks any detail or substance,” but she expressed interest in exploring it more. Republican candidate Charlie Summers has rejected it as “just another effort to distract Maine voters from the real issue in the campaign: the economy.”

It’s understandable that Dill first reacted cynically and Summers said no. Though King likely stands to lose the most money, he also stands to benefit from the positive publicity. Putting King’s motives aside, though, the former governor opened a question that may be even more important than who gets to replace retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe.

If the Maine race joins the one in Massachusetts in rejecting super-PAC money, it would send a strong message to Congress that the very people supposedly benefiting from anonymous money don’t want it. Candidates in more states may follow suit.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision on campaign contributions has opened the floodgates to “independent” campaign spending by corporations, unions and other organizations through super PACs that are unlimited in amount and often unknowable in origin.

The high court has held that money is a form of speech and that corporations have the same First Amendment right of free speech as individuals. But the anonymous donations restrict the public’s ability to track which special interests are influencing which campaigns and candidates.

The court’s decision will stand until Congress agrees on a way to return the power to regulate the raising and spending of campaign funds and make government accountable to (human) voters instead of corporate and union donors.

State Sen. Dill wrote to King on Thursday: “I look forward to working with you on negotiating an agreement that will protect the democratic process, and not price working Maine people out of the election.”

If King and Dill can reach an agreement, they might pressure Summers into joining them. That would follow the public’s desire to restrain potentially unlimited super-PAC spending.

A statewide poll in May by Critical Insights in Portland found 78 percent agreeing that “there is too much money in politics and wealthy donors are overwhelming elections, drowning out the voices of ordinary citizens.” Just 15 percent agreed with this: “Campaign finance reform has failed to live up to its promise. We should roll back restrictions on the flow of money and just let donors give as much money as they want to whomever they want.” Eight percent said they didn’t know.

In Massachusetts, incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and his Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren have pledged to discourage super-PAC contributions and devised a penalty system to enforce their agreement. A candidate who benefits from a third-party advertisement must pay a penalty, which goes to a charity chosen by the other candidate.

If King and Dill get together on an anti-super-PAC proposal, King would have to overlook Dill’s additional proposal for a limit on personal financing (a reference to King’s own wealth) and her sly dig about King’s past vote for President George W. Bush. She stretched a bit in blaming King for the Citizens United decision, since Bush appointed Justices Alito and Roberts, who held for it.

But that’s politics for you.

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