Sometimes democracy calls on ordinary citizens to do extraordinary things. Today is one of those times, and that is why more than 120 Mainers are gathering at Thomas College in Waterville for the first-ever Clean Elections Convention. Today’s speeches, workshops and trainings will help prepare us to lead Clean Elections into a bright future.
Just a few years ago, Maine’s first-in-the-nation Clean Elections system attracted the participation of eight of every 10 candidates for the Legislature. Not anymore. Maine’s once-robust Clean Elections program is in decline because of Supreme Court decisions, budget raids, gubernatorial vetoes and legislative action and inaction.
The decreased participation this year is one measure of the diminished viability of our Clean Elections system.
We are a diverse group of Maine people with a few things in common: We object to the growing role of big money in politics, we believe in the Clean Elections system and we want to see the program succeed. That’s why we have initiated “an act to strengthen the Maine Clean Elections Act, improve disclosure and make other changes to the campaign finance laws.”
The Clean Elections initiative is grounded in three core values:
â€¢ We believe that everyone — not just the wealthy — should be represented in our democracy.
â€¢ We believe that the power of government rightfully belongs in the hands of the people.
â€¢ We know that all Mainers deserve to have elected representatives who are accountable to them.
The Clean Elections initiative aims to strengthen the law by replacing the matching funds system that was struck down by the courts. That loss meant a tough road for Clean Elections candidates who face wealthy opponents. An improved Clean Elections Law will give participating candidates a chance to compete against even the most deep-pocketed adversaries.
Ordinary Maine people can’t write big campaign checks. What they can do is make small contributions to candidates they support, and the bill we’ve put forward builds on the importance of both small donations and high participation.
The Clean Elections initiative improves disclosure by providing voters with timely information about who funds the often generic-sounding PACs that pay for campaign ads. Voters should know who is trying to influence their vote, and they will when outside special interest groups have to list their top donors on each advertisement.
For the first time, governors-elect will be subject to reporting requirements so that the funds they raise and spend on transition and inaugural expenses will be made public. Today, this post-election fundraising activity is completely unregulated.
The Clean Elections initiative aims for greater accountability and compliance with campaign finance rules. It calls for higher fines when the law or rules are broken, especially close to Election Day. The price to pay for violating Maine’s campaign finance laws must be more than the mere “cost of doing business.”
Our strengthened Clean Election laws will be paid for with another measure that increases accountability: the elimination of wasteful, non-productive, corporate tax giveaways.
The Clean Elections initiative builds on the success of the past and strengthens the Clean Elections system for the future. It is an effort that is of, by and for Maine people.
Since it went into effect in 2000, the Clean Elections Law has done much for Maine people. It has allowed good people from diverse backgrounds to run for office, kept candidates focused on voters, not donors, allowed legislators to serve in office without strings to big money. Most states do not enjoy such inclusive and open elections. While it has been discouraging to see this successful program diminished, it is very exciting to stand up for the future of Clean Elections today.
The Clean Elections initiative is our best chance to restore, strengthen and ensure the success of Clean Elections for the next generation of Mainers. It starts today, in Waterville.
We hope you will join our movement to strengthen the Clean Elections system and improve transparency and accountability. Together we will do something extraordinary.
Ann Luther, of Trenton, is president of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections and the lead signer of the Clean Elections initiative. The other citizen signers are Ben Claeson of Bangor, Bill Curran of South Portland, Emma Halas-O’Connor of Portland, Carmen Lavertu of Thomaston and Ed Youngblood of Brewer.