An effort to limit individual and business contributions to political action committees in Maine is likely headed for the November ballot.

Although the proposal only applies to Maine-based PACs, the measure is seen as a test case for national supporters of campaign finance reform whose broader goal is to regulate PACs that have operated unchecked, and often in secret, for years.

Maine Secretary of State

Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows

Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows announced Thursday that enough signatures have been validated for a citizen initiative petition titled “An Act to Limit Contributions to Political Action Committees That Make Independent Expenditures.”

The citizen initiative as written would limit annual contributions to PACs from individuals, business, and other PACs to $5,000 in a calendar year. Right now, there are no limits.

Petitioners turned in more than 84,000 signatures last month – 76,081 of which were found valid. That exceeds the minimum threshold of about 68,000, which represents 10% of the total votes cast in the most recent election for governor in 2022.

The campaign finance proposal is the only citizen initiative to qualify for the November ballot. Last year, there were four citizen-led efforts, two of which passed.


The Maine Constitution mandates that any citizen initiative must first go to the Legislature for consideration. Lawmakers can enact the bill as written or simply send it forward for a statewide vote. It also would go to a statewide vote if lawmakers fail to act before the session adjourns in April. A third option would be for the Legislature to pass what’s known as a competing measure, which then would be put on the ballot alongside the citizen initiative.

Among top Democratic and Republican leaders at the State House, only one responded to a request for comment on the initiative.

Mary-Erin Casale, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, of Portland, said the speaker “respects the citizens initiative process and will vote in favor of sending this to the voters in the November 2024 election.”

The proposal was brought forward by a group of campaign finance reform activists, led by Lawrence Lessig, a prominent legal scholar from Massachusetts and a long-shot Democratic presidential candidate in 2016. In a blog post last month, Lessig wrote that he and others chose Maine as the test case because of a poll that showed an overwhelming majority of residents here support limiting the influence of PACs.

“Because this initiative depends upon a legal theory that’s true but that no court has yet to endorse, EqualCitizens (Lessig’s nonprofit) determined to take the lead in raising funds necessary to give Mainers the chance to vote on the initiative,” he wrote.

The citizen initiative is being led locally by Cara McCormick, who has been involved in a number of efforts in recent years, including the effort to establish ranked-choice voting in Maine.


“Basically we think the people of Maine have a right to a political system not only where there is no corruption, but also no appearance of quid pro quo corruption,” McCormick said Thursday.

The campaign finance reform measure has raised nearly $1 million from more than 100 donors, most of them from out of state, according to a report filed last month with the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices.

If Maine voters approve the measure, it almost certainly will be challenged in court and perhaps even make it to the Supreme Court, which last ruled on a major campaign finance case more than a decade ago. In a 5-4 vote, a majority of justices ruled in the Citizens United case that freedom of speech under the First Amendment prohibits the government from placing any restrictions on independent expenditures.

Since that decision, the amount of money that has flooded into PACs and Super PACs has increased exponentially, adding to fears among some that politicians are beholden to the extremely wealthy. PACs function outside of candidate campaigns but their goals are often in lockstep.

Former Justice John Paul Stevens, in writing his dissent of the 2010 case, said: “A democracy cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold.”

Whether the current court, which is seen as more conservative than the court that decided Citizens United, would rule differently is unknown.

Either way, McCormick is pleased that Maine voters will get a chance to decide the matter. And since the citizen initiative will be on the November ballot, which also will feature a presidential election, the turnout will be large.

“We wanted it to go before the largest amount of voters possible because then it has strength,” she said.

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