With the convincing passage of Question 1 on last month’s ballot, Maine voters sent an unmistakable message to Augusta: restore our home-grown Clean Election system to its former strength.
The new law provides for a robust Clean Election system by repairing damage inflicted on it by the U.S. Supreme Court. It identifies an important new funding source for the program — cuts to nonproductive corporate tax breaks. It also calls for new transparency measures so that voters will know who is behind the ads we see and hear in elections. It sets up a new regulatory regime, including disclosure, for post-election fundraising by our governor-elect. And, it raises the fines and penalties that may be levied when campaign finance laws are broken.
The voters did their part by passing the ballot initiative. By delivering a solid 10-point margin of victory on Election Day, Maine people left no doubt as to the value and importance of this law. It is a clear mandate.
To make good on the promise of Question 1, the 127th Maine Legislature and the executive branch must fully and faithfully implement the law. That means timely rulemaking by the Ethics Commission along with clear explanatory materials for prospective candidates. It means timely transfers of funds as required under the law to put in place adequate resources for next year’s legislative elections. It means identifying and cutting low-performing corporate tax breaks that have little economic benefit to our state.
It also means making sure that candidates for Maine’s highest and most important office — that of the governor — have a viable alternative to the increasingly troubling private money system that gives big donors a megaphone and others short shrift. The heart of a Clean Election bid for the Blaine House will be thousands of Maine voters and their $5 donations, not fancy fundraisers in Maine’s wealthiest communities.
Over the next months, Augusta will be consumed with many issues: the state budget, drug enforcement, energy costs, taxes, school funding, ranked-choice voting, welfare, marijuana, and the limits of executive authority. Important as those issues are, implementing the Clean Election initiative should be among those top priorities.
If Augusta does its job, then the 2016 elections will offer every candidate for the Maine House and Senate the chance to run under the newly restored Clean Election system. Every candidate will have the chance to reject private special money and run a voter-centered campaign based on grassroots support from local people.
Maine’s part-time citizen legislature relies on ordinary working people who are willing and able to step up, run and serve. The Clean Election program has made that possible for 15 years, and the passage of Question 1 will help bring the next generation of Maine leaders into legislative service. We Mainers are better served when we are represented by folks like us: everyone from small-business owners to teachers, farmers to lawyers, firefighters to insurance agents, retirees to people just starting out.
We each brought valuable and different perspectives to our legislative service, and we know firsthand that diverse points of view make for better decision-making in Augusta.
It’s the Maine way. We are Republicans, Democrats, Greens and independents, but we are Mainers first. We all have a stake in making our state is the best it can be.
Nearly 20 years after first approving the Clean Election measure at the polls, Maine people came through with a much-needed, reasonable and inspired upgrade that will meet the needs of our time. Voters demonstrated their commitment to our democracy, and they have every right to expect that the people who represent them will honor that commitment.
With full implementation of the Clean Election initiative, robust Clean Electionparticipation, and a host of civic-minded people from across the political spectrum willing to step up and run, we’ll get that much closer to an important ideal: elections and government truly of, by, and for Maine people. Add in the important transparency and accountability measures contained in Question 1, and Maine’s campaign finance laws will once again be the envy of the nation.
Dirigo! Maine leads.
Hannah Pingree, a Democrat from North Haven, is a former speaker of the House. Chris Rector, a Republican from Thomaston, is a former state senator.