Credit: George Danby / BDN

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We Mainers are in the sights of every big money political operation in the nation. Our U.S. Senate race this year is likely to be the most expensive election in our history, with outside interests outspending Mainers 12 to 1. This outside spending threatens the ability of all Mainers to be heard, to debate our issues, to solve our problems and to make our decisions for our state and our way of life. And it really hurts the small businesses that are the lifeblood of the Maine economy.

More than 99 percent of businesses in Maine are small businesses, and more than half of Maine’s workforce works for one of these businesses, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy. In the Senate race, both major-party candidates, Sen. Susan Collins and Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives Sara Gideon, highlight their interest in advancing small business. Collins has the support of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, while Gideon argues that she will do better for Maine’s small businesses, and will “champion hardworking Mainers not corporate special interests.”

But if leaders from both major parties don’t come together to fix the system of big money in our elections, small businesses and hardworking Mainers lose every time. We can’t afford to play the game that our elections have become. We can’t be heard over the misleading, unaccountable attack campaigns paid for by millions of dollars from wealthy donors, big business and big unions that expect to use that influence to get what they need, no matter who wins.

That’s why small businesses and the people of Maine need every candidate, no matter their party, to stand behind the Maine Resolution that just a few years ago helped start a national movement for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That’s how we can fix this problem for good — with fair, even-handed rules about money in elections so the voters are heard and represented.

Stand with Maine is a Maine volunteer-led effort to build support for a constitutional amendment to enable citizens and legislators to limit outside spending in our elections and our political process. This is an issue of critical importance for Maine small businesses.

Big spending from large corporations, unions and wealthy interests, often funneled through super PACs or misleadingly-named front groups, drowns out the voices of Maine small-business owners. We don’t have the budget for lobbying and can’t afford a seat at the table when it comes to policy decisions that affect our businesses and employees.

We know it’s a problem we must fix: In a national survey of more than 1,000 business leaders, the vast majority, 9 in 10, said they were concerned about democracy, and more than half said business leaders must play a role in fixing it.

These business leaders understand that our economy suffers when cronyism undermines honest competition and the real drivers of growth. When the government is allowed to pick winners and losers in the marketplace, we end up with an economy shaped by political clout rather than the quality of products and services.

Pay-to-play politics also erodes Americans’ trust in our economic system. In a 2018 Gallup survey, only 56 percent of Americans had a positive view of capitalism. This is a trend we must reverse if we hope to see free market capitalism and representative democracy continue for future generations.

The Stand with Maine campaign is being led by Mainers across the state, and many of us are small-business owners. On Sept. 11, our Senate candidates take the debate stage. Now is the time to show their support of Maine and our small business owners by letting us know that they, too, stand with Maine in support of a constitutional amendment to end the domination of money in politics and empower the voices of all Maine voters and business owners in our state.

Pete Dufour is the owner of Dufour Tax Group LLC in Portland.