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Warren Valdmanis is a partner at a Portland-based private equity business and a member of the Leadership Now Project. Fletcher Kittredge is founder and CEO of GWI, a Maine fiber infrastructure company.
Just two years ago, we in Maine celebrated two centuries of statehood — two centuries of Mainers making local decisions for ourselves. Maine has always had an independent streak, especially with regards to politics. While Maine enjoyed the third-highest voter turnout rate in the nation in 2020, it is also one of a shrinking number of purple states whose voters tend to chart an independent course. Sadly, that independence is increasingly endangered by an avalanche of outside influence and political spending.
Maine has a big problem with political spending. In Maine’s 2020 U.S. Senate election, outside groups and the campaigns spent nearly $200 million to influence the outcome, shattering Maine’s previous campaign spending records and diluting the voice of our voters. Perhaps more troubling still, Hydro-Quebec, a company solely owned by a foreign government, spent more than $22 million in support of the Central Maine Power corridor — you almost certainly saw the ads on television.
What you didn’t see is that this Canadian company stood to make more than $12 billion from a favorable result. At the same time, Canada itself has been working to pass laws protecting its elections from foreign government intrusion.
As local business-people, we greatly appreciate Maine’s close ties with Canada and its eastern provinces. But when it comes to local politics, we think it’s important to leave issues impacting Mainers to Maine residents and voters themselves.
Beyond Maine, weakening campaign finance controls and billions of dollars — often undisclosed — are funding toxic attack messages, undermining trust in American elections and the foundations of our democracy. This should matter to all of us, including business leaders in Maine and across America. Experts have long argued that a strong democracy is an essential component of our free-enterprise system and a driver of enduring competitive advantage. Free markets depend on a well-functioning and accountable government untainted by influence from those who won’t have to live with the results of that government’s decisions.
That’s why a nonpartisan coalition of local leaders from across Maine has launched an effort to tackle these problems head-on. The Protect Maine Elections proposal aims to close a dangerous loophole that allows foreign governments to directly fund campaigns to influence the outcome of elections initiated by Maine voters and would require public disclosure on advertisements indirectly funded by foreign governments and corporations controlled by them. Business leaders can ensure Maine’s economy remains strong by endorsing the Protect Maine Elections ballot initiative and encouraging their employees to sign on in support as well.
As business leaders ourselves, we view attempts to undermine our elections — whether from foreign actors or partisan actors right here at home — as threats to a stable business environment. Common-sense restrictions on election spending mitigate the risk to democracy and thus to our economy, which already faces all sorts of other macroeconomic uncertainty.
The proper functioning of capitalism in Maine and beyond depends on ensuring our elections are representative and secure. The last 18 months have demonstrated that business can rise to the challenge in these critical moments: dozens of major companies meaningfully changed their political contributions following the January 6 insurrection. These shifts from companies of all sizes show they understand that protecting our democratic system and the rule of law is in their best interest.
Maine has often helped the rest of the country to move our democracy forward. We feel we must protect our state from outside influence as a logical next step. And if we want to ensure a stable and thriving economy for our employees and customers, it’s the responsibility of Maine business leaders to be at the forefront of that effort.
To learn more about the Protect Maine Elections effort, visit https://www.protectmaineelections.com and join an upcoming webinar with Rep. Jared Golden and state Sen. Rick Bennett at 12 p.m. April 21.