Maine could be a clean election bellwether for the nation, if a citizens’ initiative measure is successful this fall. The organization Maine Citizens for Clean Elections is expected on Jan. 21 to turn in a petition with far more than the 61,123 signatures needed to put the measure on the ballot in November. Under the proposal, all Maine House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates would come under the clean elections umbrella. “Maine is a leader in this,” said John Rauh, a New Castle, N.H., Democrat who ran against Judd Gregg for the U.S. Senate in 1992 and is an advocate for clean election financing. “What Maine has done is provide a model that eliminates the barrier of money to attract candidates who want to run for office.” Rauh joined BJ McCollister, MCCE program director, and Anna Kellar, MCCE southern Maine director, at an editorial board meeting with Seacoast Media Group this past Wednesday.
Maine has had a Clean Elections Act since 1996, the first in the nation to have such a measure. Candidates qualify for matching state funds by collecting a certain number of $5 contributions from supporters – ranging from 60 for House members to 3,200 for gubernatorial candidates. At its peak, as many as 81 percent of all Maine state candidates were running clean election campaigns, said McCollister.
“As a result, we’re the most blue-collar legislature in the country, and more women have run,” he said. “People from clerks to doctors have been running for state House and Senate.”
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2011, McComish v. Bennett, struck down a provision of a clean elections law in another state that allowed matching funds to be spent on clean elections candidates. The idea behind it is that the free speech of a traditional candidate may be impinged by a publicly funded candidate, McCollister said. In the years since, he said clean elections candidates in Maine have dropped significantly, to 53 percent this past fall.