On paper, Question One on this November’s ballot sounds like a good thing. It reads:
“Do you want to change Maine law to allow publicly financed state candidates to qualify for additional funds under certain limits and rules in the Maine Clean Election Act, to improve the disclosure of who pays for political ads, and to increase penalties for violations of campaign finance law?”
What is more critical for voters to know about Question One is not what the question says; it’s what the question does not say and what supporters of this referendum don’t want you to know.
Allow me to explain. The Maine Clean Elections Act was passed by voters in 1996 as a way to rid Maine’s political landscape of the influence of big money. Since its passage one could reasonably argue that the problem they intended to solve has only gotten worse.
Under the current system, a candidate running for the Maine House of Representatives qualifies for up to $6,153 of taxpayer money to pay for their campaign. A state Senate candidate can get up to $29,108 and gubernatorial candidates do not qualify for state funding under the current system.
If Question One passes those dollar amounts would essentially triple. House candidates would qualify for $17,500; the amount for Senate candidates would balloon to $70,000 apiece and those who run for governor, who do not qualify under the current system could get, hold on to your hats, $3 million each. That means every campaign season you can count on a blustery blizzard of excessive campaign literature; more lawn signs clogging up the roads and intersections of your cities and towns; more robocalls flooding your home at night while you’re trying to relax over dinner with your families. Oh, and the most critical part of this – “you” get to pay for it all!
To put that in perspective we don’t have to look too far back in the past. In 2010, there were eight candidates running for governor in the primary and that number was whittled down to five candidates in the general election. Taxpayers would have been on the hook for $8 million for the primary plus another $10 million for the general election. Since we never know how many candidates will decide to run for office, Question One amounts to nothing more than a blank check to be drawn on the state’s general fund.
Here in Maine, we could still be doing more to give needed attention to our elderly amongst us, Veterans with traumatic brain injuries and those with severe mental or developmental disabilities who have been languishing on waitlists for services they desperately need. I cannot with a good conscience tell the elderly and disabled they must continue to wait at the back of the line while we give politicians a hefty raise just to run for office.
As many of you know, I have served a few terms in the House and I have run my share of campaigns. I have chosen not to accept taxpayer money opting instead to raise my own money from those who feel strongly about supporting my race.
I do not begrudge anyone who chooses to run “clean” but I believe the current amounts are more than enough to run a campaign. Raising these amounts at all is an unnecessary increase to an already generous system. Tripling these amounts, I believe, is an absurd waste of valuable resources that are sorely needed elsewhere.
Rep Sue Austin represents House District 67 which includes parts of Gray, Casco, Frye Island and Raymond.