Published Date Written by David Carkhuff
Less than three months after clean-elections activists gathered to mark the fourth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial Citizens United v F.E.C. decision, Maine Citizens for Clean Elections reacted to another setback for campaign-finance reform advocates.
In a ruling released Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the overall contribution limit to federal candidates, political parties and political action committees. The McCutcheon v. FEC ruling sparked a hastily organized protest at Portland's Congress Square.
"This ruling is bad for our democracy and everyday people. It advantages the wealthiest among us – those who give more than $123,200 in an election cycle," said Andrew Bossie, executive director of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, in a statement. "This is another blow to average Americans who increasingly feel shut out of elections and government thanks to the flood of big money let loose by this Court. From Citizens United to McCutcheon, the Court is moving campaign finance law in the wrong direction."
Bossie explained Wednesday that Maine has an "aggregate campaign contribution limit" of $25,000 in state races. He said it's unclear how the ruling will affect state law, but he saw the decision as another case of the court "elevating the role of money in elections."
The 1996 voter-created Maine Clean Election Act established a voluntary program of full public financing of political campaigns for candidates.
In January 2010, the Supreme Court issued its 5-4 Citizens United v F.E.C. decision, allowing unlimited political spending by corporations and unions in elections. Then, in June 2011, a divided U.S. Supreme Court struck down an Arizona campaign-finance law, prompting the Maine Senate to eliminate the matching funds portion of Maine's Clean Election Act, as the Arizona system for public financing of campaigns was based on Maine's Clean Elections law.
At the time, House Speaker Robert Nutting said Maine's Clean Election Act "was never intended to provide an open-ended flow of taxpayer money to pay for partisan political campaigns."
Jonathan Wayne, executive director on the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, said Wednesday that he still needed to review the McCutcheon ruling.
"It does sound like the federal law that was challenged has an analog in state campaign finance law," he said.
The Maine law, Wayne said, "might need to be examined in light of the decision."
Wayne said, "If the courts say that a federal law went too far or was restrictive or was burdensome, sometimes that can have an impact on constitutionality of state laws."
Maine's clean elections law continues to fund publicly financed candidates, with 20 percent more funding in this year's elections provided through the state clean elections law, Wayne said.
Democratic members of Congress from New England, including U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., decried the ruling. Shaheen described the ruling as a blow to "key limitations on federal campaign contributions, eliminating the aggregate amount individuals can contribute to federal candidates and party committees."
Congressman Mike Michaud, a candidate for governor, said, "Campaign finance laws were set up to ensure that wealthy special interest groups couldn't trample the will of the people, yet in the wake of Citizens United and today's ruling in McCutcheon, that is exactly what will happen."
In January, Maine Citizens for Clean Elections marked the fourth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial Citizens' United ruling. The group predicted that Maine's 2014 state elections would be fueled with $26.6 million in private money.
How the U.S. Supreme Court's McCutcheon v. FEC ruling will affect Maine's Clean Election Act isn't clear, but advocates for campaign finance reform plan to rally in Portland this weekend and celebrate an icon of the clean-elections movement.
"Go, Granny D!" — described as the true story of Doris Haddock, the 88-year-old woman who took a 14-month, 3,200-mile journey from California to Washington, D.C. to promote the issue of campaign finance reform — is a one-hour play being performed Saturday, April 5, at 4 p.m. at SPACE Gallery, Portland. For details, visit http://www.space538.org.