AUGUSTA – Preventing fraud, changing advertising rules and strengthening the rules for gubernatorial candidates are just some of the changes proposed to the Maine Clean Election Act.

On Monday, Maine Ethics Commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne presented a list of proposed changes to the act in front of the state’s Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee.

The changes are part of a bill made up by the commission and the result of a 97-page report on the Clean Election Act released Friday by the commission.

One of the reasons for the length, Wayne said is the commission has received inquiries from other states wanting to create a similar program. The report details Maine’s act as a whole.

Preventing fraud

Findings: There were two instances of fraud in collecting $5 checks from voters.

John Michael of Lewiston, a candidate for governor, was accused of submitting 746 invalid contributions. Commission members called the donors, many of whom denied ever giving Michael money. Michael appealed the claims, but later withdrew from the race.

Peter Throumoulos of Old Orchard Beach, a primary election candidate for the state Senate, was indicted on a charge of forging a “significant number” of contributions. His case is pending before the Maine Superior Court.

Proposed changes: To prevent fraud, commission members propose that those donating cash to campaigns be required to sign a money order, to be submitted to the commission.

PAC, political party ads

Findings: Independent expenditures are defined as advertisements by a political action committee or political party clearly supporting or attacking a specific candidate. Maine Clean Election Act candidates do qualify for matching funds within 21 days of the election.

The study report found that many of these ads merely said positive things about a candidate, and did not tell voters to vote for him or her – a loophole in the system, Wayne said.

Also, candidates complained that organizations waited until the last minute to report these expenditures, the report states, so the candidates would not get matching funds in time. This is a problem being monitored by the commission, although officials have not made any recommendations at this time.

Proposed changes: Commission officials recommend the definition of “independent expenditure” be changed to include any ad mentioning a candidate. This will apply during the last 60 days of an election, giving candidates more time to get the matching funds.

The party placing the ad can rebut the claim, Wayne said.

Allison Smith, co-chairwoman of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, supported this change.

“(It) will get the Ethics Commission out of the business of scrutinizing the messages contained in independent electioneering communications,” she said.

More money to qualify

Findings: When commission officials conducted the study, they surveyed privately financed candidates. General themes of the results were: they did not approve of public funds being spent on campaigns; they did not want to burden the taxpayers; and a system based on private funding produces more qualified officials.

Also, others did not like the name of the act – stating it perceived privately funded candidates as “dirty.”

Proposed changes: Wayne has proposed a change that will also require them to collect at least $15,000 to qualify for public funding; now there is no minimum.

“The requirement would help reassure taxpayers and the Legislature that MCEA funding will be paid only to candidates for governor who have demonstrated a threshold of public support through the qualification process,” Wayne said in his testimony Monday.

Shifting payment times

Findings: In the 2006 general gubernatorial race, Republican candidate Chandler Woodcock received 63 percent of his funds in the last 25 days before the election. Pat LaMarche, Green Party candidate, and Barbara Merrill, independent candidate had similar problems, though they qualified for an initial payment in June.

“The candidates were less able to make the advertising choices available to privately financed candidates …” the report states.

Proposed changes: In his testimony, Wayne said the commission is looking at a change in payment schedule. The amount paid in June would go from $400,000 to $600,000, and the $200,000 difference would be deducted from matching funds down the line.

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