AUGUSTA (AP) – A new report by the state ethics commission gives Maine’s Clean Election Act generally high marks while pointing to a few troublesome areas and proposing a variety of technical and more substantial changes.

Overall, according to the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices’ study report, 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,” said the report released this week in advance of a public hearing on some of its proposed changes.

The report from the commission, which manages the clean elections system, recounts “surprisingly few serious administrative problems” since its beginning in 2000.

But the report also said, “Some important policy issues and unintended consequences need to be addressed,” focusing in part on a continuing debate over how to regulate some campaign involvement by outside organizations.

Also included in the report were several items deemed worthy of legislative consideration but not as of now subjects of a commission recommendation, such as limits on the size of contributions to political action committees.

A commission bill, LD 1854, goes before the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee on Monday.

One specific call from the ethics panel would require candidates for governor seeking to qualify for public financing to collect $15,000 in small donations of up to $100 from individuals to demonstrate a significant level of support.

Such seed money contributions, the report said, should be permitted only from state residents.

The ethics panel would also prohibit publicly financed candidates for office from using state money to pay a family member for campaign services.

The report noted that 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.

AP-ES-04-27-07 1419EDT

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