Published Date Written by David CarkhuffOn Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, announced legislation to publicly fund congressional campaigns, while proponents of "clean elections" gathered at the Maine Capitol to unveil a resolution seeking support for a U.S. constitutional amendment limiting corporate funding of elections.
In the back-and-forth struggle over campaign finance, Tuesday's announcements sought to turn the tide against judicial and legislative setbacks for proponents of publicly funded campaigns.
The U.S. Supreme Court in June 2011 struck down an Arizona campaign-finance law that provided public funding to state political candidates. The Arizona system for public financing of campaigns was based on Maine's Clean Elections law.
Republicans said the Supreme Court ruling prompted legislators here to review Maine's law. As a result, members of the Maine Senate removed the portion of the law that provides matching funds to candidates whose opponents raise more money than them.
Now, a different party controls the Maine Legislature.
A member of the new Democratic majority in the Maine Legislature, Maine Sen. Geoff Gratwick, said it's time to reverse these erosions of the clean elections law. Gratwick, a Bangor Democrat, cited his campaign to defeat incumbent Republican Sen. Nichi Farnham in District 32, where outside spending dwarfed all previous races in the state.
"In 2012, four months ago, more money was spent on this election, $500,000 or thereabouts, half a million dollars, more than has ever been spent at any time in the past on a Maine legislative election. This is wrong, this is not just wrong, this is obscenely wrong, this is outrageously wrong," Gratwick said during the rally at the Capitol by Maine Citizens for Clean Elections.
"It's hard to tell whether we had an election in our district, or rather did we have an auction last November," Gratwick told a standing-room-only crowd in the State House Welcome Center.
"We the candidates were pawns in this whole process, we were a commodity to be sold," he said.
Gratwick read a resolution urging the Maine Legislature to declare its support for a U.S. constitutional amendment that would allow regulation of campaign finance and define the role of corporations in elections.
In a separate announcement, Pingree reported that she had joined Kentucky Congressman JohnYarmuth this week in re-introducing H. R. 269, the Fair Elections Now Act. Pingree said the law would provide public financing for congressional campaigns "and enable small donors to play on the same field as special interests and encourage a more diverse pool of candidates."
Pingree first introduced FENA in 2009 and reintroduced the bill with Congressman Yarmuth Monday. The bill currently has 52 co-sponsors, she announced Tuesday.
Proponents of "clean elections" said the push for campaign finance reform reaches from the grassroots level.
"We need to put people back in the driver's seat of our democracy," said Andrew Bossie, executive director of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections. "More than 25 towns have passed resolutions in Maine calling for a U.S. constitutional amendment on campaign finance, and already we have 11 state legislatures that have urged Congress to pass a constitutional amendment, and we're hoping to make Maine the 12th state."
On Jan. 11, Republican Maine Gov. Paul LePage released his biennial budget for 2014-2015, and Sections LL-1 and MM-1 recommend the transfer of a total of $4 million — $2 million by June 30, 2014 and another $2 million by June 30, 2015 — from the Maine Clean Election Fund to the state's general fund.
Bossie said Maine Citizens for Clean Elections want the Maine Legislature to reject this transfer.
"Unfortunately, we're here during a time when our clean elections law is also under attack. The governor's biennial budget cuts more than $4 million from the clean elections fund, which would effectively gut the program for 2014," he said.
The Maine Clean Election Act, which established a voluntary program of full public financing of political campaigns for candidates running for governor, state senator and state representative, has its supporters and detractors. Advocates point out that in the 2008 general election, before the law was cast into question by court rulings, 81 percent of the legislative candidates participated in the MCEA. Opponents say Maine taxpayers have spent more than $20 million to fund political campaigns since the Clean Elections Act went into effect in 2000, and argue that the money could be better used.
Bossie said the voters and state legislatures should amend the U.S. Constitution as a way to eliminate corporate influence in elections and reverse the effects of the controversial Citizens United v FEC ruling.
"We're here today to call on the Maine Legislature and on our U.S. Congress to fight back against Citizens United rulings and other Supreme Court rulings that have elevated the role of money in our elections while diminishing the voices of everyday people in Augusta and Washington, D.C."
The group presented more than 11,000 postcards collected from Maine voters urging lawmakers to pass a resolution calling for a U.S. constitutional amendment.