There’s an accusation that public financing for state elections, including Maine’s system, is irreparably broken. Opponents say the presence of fraud and the lack of better, more accurate gauges for success, aside from sheer participation, prove public financing is a disaster.

Look, they say. A self-professed stoner and marijuana farmer from Maine got $50,000 for what was obviously a campaign sideshow. Well, yes, that was embarrassing. Yet it must be mentioned that authorities are still chasing the perpetrators of this fraud several years after the fact.

One of them, Daniel Rogers, was recently tracked to a Lisbon Street motel after years away from Maine, and served with a lawsuit to recover some $17,000 in fines levied by the state ethics commission, related to that aforementioned weed farmer. This serves a dual purpose.

First, to collect the money. Second, to provide accountability. If the most flagrant violators of clean elections practices aren’t pursued, the program loses face. The clean elections laws in Maine have shown they do work, for the candidates who use them properly.

There is still room, however, for the clean elections system to prove its efficacy in punishing candidates who would use it improperly or illegally. Public financing opponents can now raise this point to argue their case, but having more examples like Rogers would work to weaken the opponents’ arguments.

What also counteracts opponents is what Maine has done with gubernatorial elections, which is to raise the threshold for receiving public money. It’s now harder for Blaine House bidders to qualify, which makes sense, as candidates should prove viability before triggering “clean” funds.

This is a departure from initial thinking about clean elections, which was to allow anybody to run for office. The problem in practice is that if you allow anybody to run for office using somebody else’s money, anybody will — even a weed farmer from Hartford named Julia St. James.

Tightening qualifications, then, is the right move. Not so much as to become exclusionary, but just enough to ensure that serious candidates, with proven support, can run “clean” campaigns.

In the end, though, the biggest danger to clean elections in Maine is neither fraud nor measures of success. It is funding. If utilized in  numbers like the 2006 governor’s race, the state’s fund for clean elections could empty, sending candidates back to private money for the difference.

This must be avoided, for the sake of the program. Like any trailblazing idea, the flaws of clean elections have become apparent, and been addressed, over time.

What cannot be overcome, however, is bankruptcy, essentially. The most crucial element of public financing for elections is not monitoring how the money is spent, but ensuring there is financing available for any qualified candidate.

If it cannot do that, the opponents of public financing cannot be so easily disputed.

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