Rosa Scarcelli, Democratic candidate for governor, cleverly renamed the low road the high road Monday, announcing she will not take Clean Election Fund money, ostensibly to spare Maine voters the expense of her campaign.

“I could not in good conscience take tax dollars to run my campaign knowing that every dollar I received was a dollar that wasn’t going to support our schools or provide care for the elderly, or repairing roads and bridges.”

While we generally like Scarcelli’s sincerity, history makes us suspect her motives are slightly less altruistic.

Her announcement certainly shows the sad state of our Clean Election law when it comes to regulating races for governor. Here a candidate confers with her conscience and decides to take private, special-interest money over the “clean” taxpayer-supplied variety.

Scarcelli noted that she “is not an opponent of the Clean Election Fund and believes that money and influence should be removed from politics.”

Perhaps she can prove that by pledging to adhere to the spending limits and other provisions of Maine’s Clean Election law while not taking the money. Her release was silent on that.

There are, of course, practical and tactical reasons for refusing taxpayer funding. It signals to opponents that you have deep-pocket support, plus it relieves you from meeting the niggling obligations of the Clean Election law, which are considerable.

Last year the Legislature made it tougher for candidates for governor to qualify for public funding. They must now raise $40,000 in seed money from voters, with a $100 cap on each donation. Candidates must also secure 3,250 individual $5 donations for the Clean Election fund as a test of their appeal.

State Sen. Peter Mills, R-Cornville, has quipped that the provision is mainly designed to test a candidate’s ability to hassle people. Convincing that many people to part with $5 is certainly an organizational challenge and distraction.

Scarcelli’s decision has precedent. In 2002 and 2006, Gov. John Baldacci ditched Clean Election funding in favor of private and special-interest money and won easily over his clean-election opponent, Republican Chandler Woodcock.

The last time the governor’s race was open, meaning without an incumbent in the running, was 2002, and the example is probably not lost on the Scarcelli camp.

In the general election that year, both John Baldacci and Peter Cianchette declined public financing, while Green Party candidate Jonathan Carter accepted the “clean” money.

Baldacci spent about $2 million on that victory, compared to $1.2 million for Cianchette and about $940,000 for Carter. Baldacci handily won that race with 47 percent of the vote compared to 41 percent for Cianchette, 9 percent for Carter and about 2 percent for independent candidate John Michael.

It’s hard to know for sure, but going outside the Clean Election system probably didn’t hurt Baldacci’s chances.

As in 2002, with an open Blaine House up for grabs this year, Scarcelli likely won’t be the only candidate to turn down public funding. Few, however, will be able to spin that decision so creatively.

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.