AUGUSTA, Maine — Members of a legislative committee on Wednesday quickly dispatched a bill that sought to ban gubernatorial candidates from running publicly financed campaigns.
LD 120, An Act to End Taxpayer-funded Campaigns for Gubernatorial Candidates, would have removed all references to gubernatorial candidates from the Maine Clean Elections Act. Under the act, candidates for state offices can qualify for public campaign funds but most forgo private donations.
Sen. Nichi Farnham, R-Bangor, who chairs the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, said the bill was held over from the last session so lawmakers could assess the impact of a federal lawsuit that was settled this summer.
That lawsuit ruled that the matching funds provision of the Maine Clean Election Act is unconstitutional.
A little over a month ago, the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee voted along party lines to
to strike the matching funds portion of the Maine Clean Election Act in order to comply with the court’s decision.
Some Democrats have expressed concerns that without an alternative to matching funds, special interest groups will have too much influence on campaigns.
The Maine Ethics Commission has offered two alternatives to matching funds that would create caps for clean House and Senate candidates. Neither has been adopted by the Legislature.
On Wednesday, there was little debate about LD 120. Rep. Jarrod Crockett, R-Bethel, made the motion to move forward a recommendation of ought not to pass. Initially, Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, said she opposed the motion.
Members then took a break so each party’s caucus could meet privately. Farnham did not say what happened during that brief caucus meeting, but when the committee resumed, members voted quickly to move forward a recommendation of ought not to pass.
Advocates of the Maine Clean Election Act praised the decision.
“Maine people want to move forward, not backward, in the fight against big-money, special interests in our government,” said Alison Smith, president of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections. “The committee action preserves the opportunity for candidates for governor to run for office using Clean Elections. We still have work to do to ensure the system is viable in 2014, but today’s vote allows the conversation to continue.”
Gubernatorial candidates from both parties in 2010, including Republican Peter Mills and Democrat Libby Mitchell, ran as clean candidates. Gov. Paul LePage was privately funded.