In 2014, I ran for the state Senate seat for Waldo County and lost by only 135 votes after a recount. That was close enough that I decided to give it a second shot.
During the last two years, I spent a lot of time in Augusta to learn more about how it works to become more effective in representing Waldo County, if I have the opportunity. I met good people from both parties, went to public hearings and testified on legislation. I also worked on the solar bill that, despite widespread support, was vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage.
I learned a lot about the visible and less visible ways that Augusta operates. The main lesson I learned is this: Money in politics is the biggest obstacle to Augusta working for Maine voters. One of the biggest differences between me and my opponent in the Waldo County Senate race, Senate President Mike Thibodeau, is our positions on money in politics.
I am running as a Clean Elections candidate using volunteer power and small donations from Waldo County voters. In Maine, running clean means I can’t take outside money. I haven’t taken outside money. I can’t and I haven’t communicated with groups or individuals independently spending money on my behalf. I cannot stop outside spending; it is protected as free speech. I have publicly stated on my campaign website that I am opposed to outside money being used to influence my election.
My opponent has recently criticized me because a political action committee has independently spent money in support my election. The Maine Republican Party asked for an ethics investigation into the organization, but the Maine Ethics Commission unanimously found there was no violation.
My opponent, on the other hand, is running a traditionally funded campaign with private and corporate donations. The PACs he personally controls — Senate Republican Presidents Fund, Maine Senate Republican Majority and Michael D. Thibodeau Candidate Committee — are worth close to half a million dollars, and contributors include pharmaceutical interests, tobacco companies, casinos and the biggest legal and lobbying firms in Maine. He and the candidates he chooses to support will benefit politically from this money.
In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling opened the floodgates of money in elections by lifting limits on corporate and individual spending for campaigns and independent expenditures. I oppose independent expenditures and dark money in elections, and I will push to challenge and overturn Citizens United. By contrast, my opponent voted against a legislative resolution urging Congress to pass a constitutional amendment overturning the Citizens United decision.
The visible side of Augusta politics mirrors the democracy we learn about in school, where citizens can participate in policymaking. But the other — and very powerful — side of Augusta is big-money-supported politics. This is not government for and by the people, but government choked by wealthy interests. The State House is filled with lobbyists advocating for private agendas. Corporate political donations often are spread across both parties to amplify their influence. Money passes through multiple law firms, corporations and organizations, obscuring sources and interests.
As special interests dig in, the chance for sensible compromise fails. Power is concentrated in the hands of political leaders willing to perpetuate a broken system. Good bipartisan bills with strong public support are sabotaged or killed. Deals on important issues are decided behind closed doors.
Eliminating the power of money in politics won’t be easy, but we can take action. I support a requirement that all candidates participate in elections through the rules of the Maine Clean Elections Fund. With this system, the only debt of gratitude a candidate owes is to the taxpayer.
We also can insist on transparency. We can hold our elected officials to account under Maine’s sunshine laws that prohibit closed-door meetings and negotiations.
We are growing a grass-roots movement to change how Augusta works. We can make Maine politics be for the people. Join me in opposing big money in politics. Vote to change the system.
Jonathan Fulford is the Democratic candidate in the race for Senate District 11.