AUGUSTA, Maine — A day after a federal judge invalidated a key provision of Maine’s public campaign financing law, supporters of the system are confident the law will be fixed in time for next year’s elections.
“We’re actually quite confident the law will emerge very strong,” said Alison Smith, board president of the nonprofit Maine Citizens for Clean Elections.
On Wednesday, District Court Judge George Singal declared the matching funds provision of Maine’s Clean Election Act invalid.
Singal’s decision, which was based on last month’s U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a similar public funding provision in Arizona, had been anticipated by elected officials and supporters of the law.
“That’s why we went into fix-it mode,” said Smith.
During the 2011 session, the Legislature passed a law that puts into motion a process for addressing the provision flagged by the courts, which provides matching funds for publicly funded candidates when their privately funded opponents receive additional funding or funding on their behalf.
The Legislature directed the state Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices to develop recommendations to be submitted to the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which will use them to develop a bill to correct the public funding law for consideration during the 2012 session.
Next Thursday, the ethics commission will hold a public session to accept suggestions on how to address the funding provision. The commission has already developed several suggestions, including allowing limited private fundraising by clean election candidates who decide they need more campaign funds.
Whatever remedy emerges, some action to preserve the public funding system is widely expected, given lawmakers’ active participation in the system. Participation by legislative candidates typically runs about 80 percent, according to ethics commission figures.
“Judge Singal’s decision we consider almost a technicality at this point,” Smith said. “We’re confident there’s time before the 2012 elections are under way to tweak the system.”
Maine Assistant House Majority Leader Andre Cushing, who successfully challenged the matching fund provision in federal court, agrees the public funding law will survive in an amended form.
“I honestly believe we will have to pass something” to address the court’s ruling,” the Hampden Republican said.
Maine voters approved the Maine Clean Election Act in 1996. The voluntary system provides full public financing for eligible candidates for the Maine Legislature and governor. The system was intended to encouraging new candidates to run for public office and reduce the role of fundraising in political campaigns.