Campaign payouts retained

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AUGUSTA (AP) – As Democrats, Republicans and other hopefuls prepare for next year’s legislative elections, overseers of Maine’s Clean Election treasury have decided to cap basic public funding payments for eligible participants in the 2008 campaign cycle at 2006 levels.

This month’s action by the state Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices came amid some concern about the stability of Clean Election funding for future elections.

“At their meeting on July 16, the members of the ethics commission decided to use the same initial payment amounts in 2008 as were paid to legislative candidates in 2006,” the panel’s executive director, Jonathan Wayne, wrote to interested parties in a memo this week.

“The commission took this action out of a concern for the long-term cost of the program and because the 2006 amounts appeared to be adequate,” Wayne wrote.

As outlined by the commission, 2008 primary election payment amounts will be $1,504 for contested House candidates and $512 for uncontested House candidates, and $7,746 for contested Senate candidates and $1,927 for uncontested Senate candidates.

For the 2008 general election, initial payments will be $4,362 for contested House candidates and $1,745 for uncontested House candidates, and $20,082 for contested Senate candidates and $8,033 for uncontested Senate candidates.

According to a commission report earlier this year, the optional system for public financing of election campaigns “appears to be settling itself into the political landscape” after four election cycles.

“Particularly for legislative candidates, it has proven itself to be a viable option for candidates who would prefer not to finance their campaigns through private contributions or believe that the MCEA offers other advantages,” the report said.

The report said Maine’s implementation of a Clean Election system has curbed spending by legislative candidates but has not prevented overall campaign spending by all sources – “including political action committees and political parties” – from increasing.

“Changing the sources of funding for candidates’ campaigns will not, by itself, control spending by PACs and political parties, encourage more substantive discussion of issues or increase voter interest in elections,” the report said.

Under Maine’s Clean Election system, approved by voters in 1996, qualified candidates must agree not to raise private funds and to limit spending. Nonparticipating candidates may raise and spend money without limitation. If a participating candidate is outspent by a candidate raising private funds, matching money becomes available.

The commission said the number of participating legislative candidates has grown every election year.

Charting total Clean Election payments to legislative candidates for election years 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2006, the commission reported an upward trend from $964,467 to $2,089,538 to $2,799,617 to $3,348,469.

Sources of money for the Maine Clean Election Fund include legislative appropriations, an income tax check-off option and qualifying contributions submitted to the commission by candidates.

AP-ES-07-25-07 1322EDT

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