A Maine Superior Court judge has ordered Republican Gov. Paul LePage to release about $1.4 million in campaign funds for candidates running under the state’s clean elections law.

The order Thursday by Justice William Stokes would provide public funding for the campaigns of about 174 candidates for the Legislature and one candidate running in the governor’s race.

Under Stokes’ order, LePage has three days to release the funds so they can be distributed by the state’s Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, which oversees the Maine Clean Election Act.

“The implications of this case go beyond Clean Elections, and touch on the power of the executive and rule of law,” said attorney John Brautigam, who brought the suit. The plaintiffs include Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, as well as candidates and Maine voters who made contributions that qualified the candidates for clean election funding.

Stokes wrote that the three-day deadline “is necessary and proper in this case because the candidate-Plaintiffs are involved in campaigns for election and time is of the essence . . . Failure to make the distributions as required by law and by this Court’s order could, over time, frustrate the very purpose” of the Clean Election Act.

During hearings on the lawsuit last week, Stokes said he expected his decision would be appealed by the LePage administration.

“The Administration is studying the decision and considering options,” LePage’s press secreatry Julie Rabinowitz wrote in an email message to the Press Herald. ” We appreciate that the Court recognized that it lacks the authority to order the Governor to sign financial orders and rejected the bulk of their claims. The decision explicitly removes the Governor from the process.”

Stokes’ ruling does not affect an additional $4.8 million in clean elections funding that is tied up in a partisan dispute in the Maine House of Representatives. The Legislature is now in recess from a special session that was called to, among other things, fix a typo in the state budget law that has prevented the release of those funds.

House Republicans, largely opposed to the publicly financed election system, have withheld the votes needed to fix the error, which would allow the Ethics Commission to distribute those funds as well.

The candidate with the most at stake is independent State Treasurer Terry Hayes, who is running for governor. Under the program, Hayes is presently eligible for an additional $350,000 in funding, based on qualifying $5 contributions to the Clean Election fund made by citizen donors.

“Maine people shouldn’t have to sue their public officials to get them to do their jobs,” Hayes said Thursday.

The suit was filed against LePage when he refused to sign a routine financial order that would have allowed the Ethics Commission to use money left over from the 2016 election cycle for candidates who are eligible for additional funds in 2018. LePage has three times signed similar orders.

“We urge the administration to release the funds immediately now that the court has ruled,” said Anna Kellar, executive director for Maine Citizens for Clean Elections. “If the administration still resists, we will be there to fight every step of the way, defending our democracy from a governor who is increasingly not interested in following the will of Maine people.”


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