LePage’s budget proposal seeks to sweep a total of $4 million from the Maine Clean Election Fund in 2014 and 2015. Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Maine Ethics Commission, which administers the fund, said that would zero out the commission’s ability to provide funds to candidates and could lead to layoffs of some of the commission’s six staff members.
“If what the governor has proposed were enacted, we couldn’t provide any funds for candidates,” said Wayne to the budget-writing committee. “There would be no program.”
Wayne told the Bangor Daily News on Wednesday that about 70 percent of current legislators were clean elections candidates, which means they agreed to use the publicly funded program for their campaigns instead of trying to raise their own funds privately.
Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for Gov. Paul LePage, said the language in Part MM of his proposed budget reflects the governor’s long-standing opposition to the clean election program.
“This budget the governor had to prioritize. This budget he balanced,” said Bennett in a written response to questions from the BDN. “Giving welfare to politicians came further down the list from protecting Maine’s most vulnerable people.”
Wayne said participation in the program dipped by about 12 percent from the 2010 election to the 2012 election, which he attributed to two decisions at the state and national level. In 2011, the Legislature cut payment amounts to candidates by 5 percent. But the bigger impact on the program came from the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2011 ruled it unconstitutional for a similar program in Arizona to pay matching funds to candidates whose opponents benefit from private donations or expenditures by political action committees. That decision was later reiterated for Maine’s program in U.S. District Court.
According to Wayne and others, that makes running as a clean election candidate less attractive for some candidates who fear they would be far outspent by privately funded campaigns.
“It was especially valuable for candidates who found themselves in races where there was a large amount of independent expenditures by [political action committees] and party committees,” said Wayne. “Typically a candidate who was being outspent would receive those matching funds close to the election. They were intended to provide candidates with an opportunity to engage in more campaign speech if they were outspent by opponents or were facing negative expenditures.”
The program currently provides a total of $5,366 for contested House of Representatives candidates in the primary and general elections. Contested Senate candidates receive a maximum of $25,483 for the primary and general elections. Gubernatorial candidates receive a total of $1 million from the program for primary and general elections, which according to Wayne is much lower than was spent by gubernatorial candidates in 2010. Independent Eliot Cutler spent about $2.2 million while LePage’s campaign spent about $1.4 million. Democrat Elizabeth Mitchell, who was the only clean election candidate in the general gubernatorial election, spent about $1.9 million, including matching funds that are no longer allowed in the program.
Maine voters supported creation of the public election financing system during a 1996 statewide referendum to create the Maine Clean Elections Act.