It’s about three weeks from Election Day, but you may just now be hearing about the November ballot question to reform Maine’s program for taxpayer-funded political campaigns. Question 1 on the ballot aims to fortify the Maine Clean Election Act, a citizen-initiated effort passed by voters in 1996 to stem the influence of private money in state politics. It allows candidates to run for state office by accepting small-dollar campaign contributions, or “seed money,” that qualifies them for public money to run campaigns. Once they get it, they can’t raise private money. The law has been weakened in recent years, but Maine’s system is still one of the most progressive in the nation. Only 13 states provide public campaign financing; of those, just five open it to legislative hopefuls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But Maine could take it further this Election Day.
Here’s how: Question 1, if approved, would increase public spending on elections by eliminating yet-to-be determined corporate tax breaks and regulate campaigns more tightly. It would raise allocations to the Clean Election system from $4 million to $6 million in each two-year budget period. How to fund that increase would be left to the Maine Legislature.
The proposal also directs legislators to pass a bill that would eliminate “low-performing, unaccountable” corporate tax breaks “with little or no demonstrated economic development benefit” as defined by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, the legislative watchdog office that has put forward a proposal to evaluate business tax breaks.
It also would increase penalties for campaign law violations and add new disclosure provisions. Notably, outside groups spending money to advertise for or against candidates would need to disclose their top three donors in any advertisement they place.