AUGUSTA — Hoping to reduce the costs of campaigns for legislative seats, Rep. Joe Brooks, U-Winterport, has introduced a bill that would require the secretary of state to provide State House candidates with a list of the registered voters in the district in which they are running.
The list would include a voter's name, mailing address, year of birth and party affiliation. Currently, the state sells voter registration information to political parties, candidates, issue-based political campaigns and get-out-the-vote organizations.
"Sometimes it's difficult as candidates to get an accurate list that shows all parties and it's difficult sometimes to do it without costing a candidate's campaign money," Brooks told members of the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday. "So, I think it's a good idea."
Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn said her agency opposes the bill because it would take staff time and resources away from other duties during a busy time of year. Flynn noted that the state currently sells the information to candidates and/or political parties. She said a statewide list of voters is sold for $2,200.
District lists cost a House candidate $22 and a Senate candidate $83, Flynn said.
The revenue loss for the district lists would be a relatively small sum. The state received only 21 requests last year, for a total of $783. She said that's mostly because candidates are getting the information from their political parties or from registrars of voters in their districts.
Flynn told the committee that, as drafted, Brooks' bill would need changes to add clarity to the point that the information would be provided at no charge to a candidate. Currently, candidates purchase the list once a year and can request free updates.
The bill also doesn't make clear that the information would be provided in electronic format, Flynn said. Providing the lists in hard copy would be even more costly to the state. As it is proposed in Brooks' bill, it would take one staff person about 40 hours to complete. Flynn said that was based on the possibility that an average of 400 candidates would request the information each election cycle.
Records provided by Flynn's office show sale of the statewide list generated $10,626 in 2012 and more than $25,300 in 2011.
Candidates, parties and campaigns use the information to send political mail and may also use the information to cross-reference data and obtain telephone numbers for campaign messages or polling.
Under Maine's Freedom of Access Act, the information is considered confidential and is provided only to qualifying groups or individuals, Flynn said. The law prohibits with whom the information can be shared, and state law does not allow a voter to opt out or request information be kept confidential, she said.
Of Maine's 980,000 registered voters, only about 12 in a group of 100 people who are legally protected in the state's Address Confidentiality Program (often victims of stalking crimes) have their contact information blocked on voter registration lists, Flynn said.
David Bright, a Democratic political activist from Dixmont, also testified in support of Brooks' bill Wednesday.
Bright said the state was obligated to encourage and help those who were willing to serve as candidates for state government posts.
"What's broke here is the Maine tradition of encouraging and helping political candidates speak and connect directly to the voters," Bright said. He said the state's Clean Elections Act has slowly been undermined by U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have limited candidates' ability to reach voters with their messages.
Bright said the bill was a companion measure to another that addresses issues with the state's Clean Elections Act.
"Basically, this bill reduces the cost of campaigning," Bright said. "Its premise is that rather than feeding on its candidates by nickle and diming them in efforts to increase state revenues, the state of Maine ought to be helping candidates to get their message out."
He said the cost of campaigning for office in Maine has in some cases risen to "ridiculous proportions."
He added, "This bill is a small attempt to help mitigate that and to have our state government say to our candidates, 'Thank you for offering to serve.'"