AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine could become the 13th state to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to overturn the controversial Citizens United ruling.
Sen. Richard Woodbury, I-Yarmouth, plans to introduce a resolution Tuesday in the Maine Senate that directs the state’s congressional delegation to support a constitutional amendment that would overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 “Citizens United” opinion equating campaign spending with free speech.
Woodbury made his case for the resolution during a Maine Citizens for Clean Elections event Monday in the State House Hall of Flags. Twelve other states, most recently West Virginia earlier this month, have passed similar resolutions.
In March, independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida introduced a constitutional amendment to overturn “Citizens United.” The proposed amendment would “expressly exclude for-profit corporations from the rights given to natural persons by the Constitution of the United States, prohibit corporate spending in all elections, and affirm the authority of Congress and the states to regulate corporations and to regulate and set limits on all election contributions and expenditures.”
Woodbury, a 2012 Clean Election candidate whose opponent’s privately funded campaign raised more than six times as much as his did, told a crowd of about 40 people — many of whom held signs or wore buttons reading “End Corporate Personhood” — that “Citizens United” has damaged democracy.
“The ‘Citizens United’ decision has been enormously destructive, to electoral politics specifically, and even more broadly to the effective practice of democracy in America by allowing essentially unlimited spending on elections by corporations and interest groups,” Woodbury said. “It has trivialized the voice and influence of regular voters.”
Monday’s event occurred four days after MCCE released a report showing that 2012 marked the first time since 2002 that private campaign spending by candidates and outside groups exceeded Maine Clean Election Act funding in legislative races. Political action committees, which gained new power as a result of the “Citizens United” ruling, dominated campaign spending on legislative races, with five PACs distributing roughly $3 million to candidates, party committees and other PACs.
Also speaking at Monday’s event, which MCCE labeled a “multipartisan” gathering, were Sen. Ed Youngblood, R-Brewer, and Rep. Mike Carey, D-Lewiston, both of whom are sponsoring bills related to election funding reform and greater public disclosure of campaign contributions.
Youngblood’s bill, LD 1309, An Act to Strengthen the Maine Clean Election Act, proposes to replace the act’s matching funds component, which was ruled unconstitutional as a result of a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision, with a mechanism that would allow publicly financed candidates to qualify for optional supplemental funding by collecting additional qualifying contributions.
“The system doesn’t do anything to reduce independent expenditures. In fact, it encourages it,” Youngblood said. “LD 1309 will put [Clean Election candidates who formerly would have qualified for matching funds] in a position to say to parties involved, ‘Stay out of my race.’”
He acknowledged that it’s unlikely outside groups will immediately respect requests from candidates not to make independent expenditures in close races, but “the only way longterm that you’re going to get outside money out is if candidates are willing to stand up” to third-party campaign financing, and “the only way to do that is to have sufficient Clean Election funding.”
Youngblood’s bill also proposes to double the amount of seed money that legislative candidates must collect to qualify for public campaign funding and to eliminate the mandatory seed money requirement for gubernatorial candidates.
The Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee has scheduled a hearing on Youngblood’s bill for Monday, May 6. After Monday’s event, Youngblood told the Bangor Daily News that he believes his bill has enough support in the House and Senate “to get it through to the governor’s desk.”
Passage of LD 1309 would require the Legislature to reject Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to cut $4 million in Clean Election Act funding from the biennial budget that begins July 1.
Carey’s bill, LD 1271, An Act to Increase Transparency in Reporting of Party Committees, Political Action Committees and Ballot Question Committees, calls for a series of actions designed to create more transparency in campaign funding. Among them are:
• Allowing harsher penalties for campaign finance violations that occur shortly before Election Day, for failure to file as a political action or ballot question committee and for late filing of required reports;
• Requires party committees and PACs to report the names, addresses and employers of people who make “bundled” contributions; and
• Tightens reporting requirements for aggregate expenditures during the two weeks before an election.
“Disclosure is the foundation of the democratic process in America and we need more of it,” Carey said.