AUGUSTA, Maine — State political campaigns in the 2014 election cycle will be funded with $26.6 million in private money, according to Maine’s leading campaign finance watchdog.
If the prediction — announced Tuesday by Maine Citizens for Clean Elections — comes true, it would represent an 80 percent jump in private election funding since 2010, the year of the last gubernatorial election.
MCCE made its prediction during a Tuesday event at the State House to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that restricting political spending violated the free speech clause of the First Amendment.
The Citizens United decision opened the floodgates for independent expenditures, injecting elections with record-breaking campaign donations from corporations, labor unions and other groups that were previously restricted in how much they could spend on politics.
Andrew Bossie, executive director of MCCE, said Tuesday marked the “anniversary of a terrible ruling.”
Bossie said increased spending by outside groups influences not only the result of elections, but the decisions made by elected officials once in office. He noted that 2012 marked the first time in Maine’s history that independent expenditures outpaced spending by political parties and candidate campaigns, and predicted that in 2014, the gap would be even larger.
“Much of this money will be dark money, where voters on the ground will never know who is spending all this cash to sway Maine elections,” he said.
The projected spending includes only state races — no U.S. House or Senate spending is included, said BJ McCollister, MCCE’s program director, and a number of factors influenced the group’s prediction.
Those included the doubling of private donation caps for gubernatorial campaigns from $750 to $1,500 for primary and general elections, campaign finance trends from around the country and the increased political activity that comes with gubernatorial and U.S. Senate elections.
Emma Halas-O’Connor, an organizer with the Environmental Health Strategy Center, said increased political spending affects every aspect of government, not just elections. She said the chemical industry was nationally the fifth-largest spender in 2012 elections, putting groups such as hers at a disadvantage in policy battles.
“Unless we work to undo the damage of Citizens United and strengthen Maine’s clean election system, the influence of large corporations on our legislators and policy outcomes will only increase,” she said during Tuesday’s event.
MCCE advocates for a strong public campaign finance system, organized in Maine under the auspices of the state Clean Elections Act of 1996. A bill to strengthen the state’s public campaign financing system was approved by the Legislature last session, but went unfunded, so MCCE says it will turn to citizens referendum this year.
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Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.