Potential candidates are already touring the state and preparing for the 2018 gubernatorial election. As aspiring leaders review their options, they should seriously consider the advantages of using Clean Elections to fund their campaign.
Clean Elections is a voluntary public funding alternative for candidates who reject large private contributions. Participating candidates count solely on small donations from Maine voters to qualify and their spending is limited. Clean Elections has been popular and successful, especially for legislative candidates for the past 15 years. In 2018, a candidate could make history by becoming Maine’s first governor elected without private special interest funding.
Imagine the difference Clean Elections can make, not just in running a different kind of campaign but in making the decision to run and in governing once elected. If we want a paradigm shift in our democracy, one way to get it is to separate private money from the person who holds Maine’s highest and most powerful office.
Qualifying for Clean Elections requires deep grass-roots support. Instead of spending hundreds of hours cold-calling political donors around the country, participating candidates raise the $5 contributions to qualify for Clean Elections from everyday Mainers. Personal connections, community ties and conversations with voters across the state are the most valuable assets in launching a Clean Elections candidacy. It won’t matter what Wall Street, Washington, D.C., or powerful political action committees think about the candidate. The successful Clean Election candidate will take his message and vision directly to the people who matter most: Maine voters. Bean suppers and town hall meetings will provide the proving ground.
Without a Clean Election option, candidates must rely on private contributions or their own wealth. And gubernatorial elections are expensive to run, making it much more difficult for a candidate of modest means to be successful. The need to raise millions of dollars drives candidates to known political contributors who can give the maximum of $3,200, and who often bundle together big contributions from their business associates. Those with money and connections are vital to privately funded campaigns.
Clean Elections can change who runs and how they run, but most importantly, it can change how they govern. Nothing would free our top executive to govern independently and in the public interest more than freeing him from the private money chase.
Think about it. The governor appoints people to head every executive branch agency, from the mammoth Maine Department of Health and Human Services to the Maine Public Utilities Commission, which regulates the services essential to every Mainer. Governors appoint judges to state courts, and members to everything from the Board of Environmental Protection to the Gambling Control Board.
Wouldn’t it be great to know that this person who has so much influence owes nothing to big-money interests, nothing to wealthy individuals, and everything to Maine voters? Wouldn’t it make a difference to have a governor who will never need to raise private contributions from lobbyists, PACs, or corporate CEOs in a future campaign? A Clean Election governor will be liberated from the complex ties created and sustained by the private money system.
Maine has not yet elected a Clean Election governor, but Arizona and Connecticut have. With a robust Clean Election law in place that allows qualified Maine candidates to run credible campaigns for governor, it is just a matter of time before Maine does, too.
Maine people have done their part to make sure a viable law exists — most importantly by voting for the Maine Clean Election Act at the polls in 1996 and again in 2015. That recent referendum strengthened the law, restored the gubernatorial program and provided adequate funding for 2018 and beyond. Opponents of Clean Elections failed at the polls but continue their fight in the Legislature. Today, there is a bill — LD 300 — to eliminate gubernatorial funding and the governor’s proposed budget would underfund the program by more than $2 million from what Maine voters mandated in 2015.
Maine people are fighting back, reminding legislators of what we voted for and why we want Clean Elections for all state races.
If we are to fulfill the promise of Clean Elections, we need a strong, fully funded system and trailblazing candidates ready to become Maine first Clean Elections governor.
Edward Youngblood, a Brewer Republican, is a former state senator. He is vice president of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections.