As Republicans who ran under the Maine Clean Election Act, we’ve experienced firsthand how our law ensures the voices of everyday people are heard and heeded in our elections and government.
We were able to run for office by talking with constituents and asking them for $5 qualifying contributions, not by calling out-of-district donors seeking a return on investment. We knew we wouldn’t have any favors to repay or special interests breathing down our necks for auspicious legislation. We wanted to represent the interests of the folks in our districts and work to improve the lives of everyday people — the way democracy should be.
Clean Election is our best hope for protecting government of, by and for the people from the influence of big campaign contributors.
Unfortunately, Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill this week that would ensure adequate Clean Election funding in the 2016 cycle.
Maine’s Ethics Commission introduced LD 1579 because past raids on the Clean Election Fund have jeopardized funding in this year’s elections. If the Clean Election runs out of money, candidates won’t be able to rely on their only option for running for office without the influence of big donors.
LD 1579 is a bipartisan fix that requires no new funding and simply advances the date when money is transferred from the general fund to the Clean Election Fund. Advancing the funds allows candidates in this election cycle to depend on the funding they have earned through a strict qualifying process. This bill is a no-brainer.
Maine voters passed Clean Election in 1996 to ensure wealthy donors and special interests would not own our elections. The law has been popular with candidates from both parties and the public for many years.
But Supreme Court rulings weakened the law, and the Legislature repeatedly underfunded the program, including shortchanging it $1.7 million in 2015. In response, the people once again took matters into their own hands, voting by a wide margin last year to strengthen the law, increase transparency and make other improvements in our elections.
We supported returning the $1.7 million this year to keep faith with the voters, but the Legislature did not reach agreement on restoring the pilfered funding. Instead, LD 1579 was enacted to allow an advance on future funding. This is only a temporary solution. To break the cycle of repeated borrowing, the next legislature must return the $1.7 million.
While the funding in LD 1579 is not directly related to the citizen initiative, the veto thwarts the clear will of the people. Failure to properly fund the system contributes to growing cynicism that our government does not work for us and that our voices don’t matter.
Even during tough budget times, funding for Clean Election is crucial. We don’t have enough money for every worthwhile program. But without Clean Election, special interests get more of a say in what priorities are funded. This is not about a line in the budget; it’s about ensuring our democracy stays strong.
A weakened or underfunded Clean Election law means wealthy campaign contributors and special interests get more of a say in Augusta and we, the people, get less.
We implore the more than 140 sitting legislators who are using Clean Election or have used it in the past to vote to ensure funding for the law they have chosen to use. It’s the right thing to do.
The people have spoken loud and clear in support of Clean Election. There is no doubt: Maine voters want to allow unbought citizens to seek office and fight for the issues that affect us all. We want a voice in our government. We want Maine to lead the nation in the fight to clean up our politics.
Maine can continue to be that leader, but each of us must do our part. We encourage all Mainers to call their elected representatives in Augusta now and urge them to stand with the people of our state. They should tell their senators and representative to ensure that Clean Election is strong and gets the funding it needs for 2016. They should vote to override the veto of LD 1579.
Jolene Lovejoy lives in Rumford, and Ed Youngblood lives in Brewer. Both serve on the Maine Citizens for Clean Elections board of directors.