The publicly funded campaign-finance system backed by Maine voters in a November referendum could run out of money during this year’s election because lawmakers have repeatedly raided the fund for other purposes. Jonathan Wayne, executive director of Maine’s ethics commission, told the Legislature’s budget-writing committee Tuesday that lawmakers have taken nearly $12 million from the Maine Clean Elections fund since 2002, including $3.4 million through the fiscal year that ended in June 2015. The Legislature has repaid $5.6 million, but Wayne said the voter-approved program designed to limit big-money influence on legislative and gubernatorial candidates could run into a “cash flow problem” later this year. That’s because more candidates are entering the program after last fall’s referendum, which increased the amount of money that could be available to support campaigns. If the Maine Clean Elections program runs out of money, it will suffer a “black eye” that could lower confidence and participation among candidates, said Wayne, whose agency oversees the campaign finance system.
The funding issue surfaced during a public hearing on a bill to hasten the transfer of $3 million that the program is scheduled to receive from the state’s General Fund on Jan. 1, 2017.
The request to accelerate the transfer of money prompted critics to say the bill was evidence that the referendum ratified in November failed to live up to its promise to Maine voters.
“The citizens’ initiative process provided these organizations with their chance to significantly rewrite law,” said Aaron Chadbourne, a senior policy adviser to Gov. Paul LePage. “This provision was not included. The ink is not yet dry and already they are coming to the well for more.”