A stack of bills aimed at cleaning up Maine’s Clean Election finance law holds the potential to rankle political leaders on both sides of the aisle. State Rep. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, said he knows leadership is displeased with his efforts to stop candidates who are seeking state office from also running political action committees that can filter money back to a political party, which in turn can use it to support a candidate or oppose a rival. According to Chenette and others, the practice creates a virtual black hole in Maine’s campaign finance law, allowing candidates the cover of their party when attacking opponents. State law also allows candidates who are running publicly funded campaigns, under the state’s Clean Election law, to separately manage so-called “leadership PACs” and collect private donations from industry lobbyists and others.
Under the Clean Election law, a candidate who chooses to run with public financing for a House seat must first collect $5 donations from 60 individuals to be eligible. After doing so, they can then only spend a limited amount of state matching funds for their campaign. Senate candidates must collect at least 175 qualifying donations. But the law doesn’t prohibit the candidates from also running a political action committee or prohibit another PAC from spending on their behalf.
Chenette, along with a bipartisan group of other lawmakers, are pushing a variety of bills to end the practice, noting it not only makes it difficult for the public to trace campaign spending, but that it is, at its roots, unethical. “Both parties have played the game,” Chenette said.