Having suffered through the most annoying and nasty political campaign in history, I have some suggestions for reforms.
Let’s start with truth-telling.
There was far too many inaccurate and misleading advertisements on TV and the radio, and in newspapers and mailers. There was a time when TV stations were required to check the honesty of ads before airing them, but I guess that is no longer the case. That should still be required.
And those Republican Party mailings that proclaimed three of their House candidates were endorsed by the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, when in fact their Democratic opponents had gotten SAM’s endorsement, were shameful. If that was an honest mistake, they should have immediately mailed a correction to all who received the false information.
So here’s my first reform. Maine’s Commission on Governmental Ethics should, upon request, check the honesty of political ads. If they determine an ad is false, they should require the ad’s sponsor to immediately make a correction, using the same media that was used for the false ad. And the commission should issue a press release noting the inaccuracy of the ad.
I find road signs particularly annoying. Law allows them within six weeks of an election and requires that they be taken down within seven days after the election. Having worked on many political campaigns in the past, I know that the signs are primarily used to build name recognition. But really, if you are voting for a candidate merely because you recognize the name, then you shouldn’t be voting.
I saw many violations of the rules this year, especially the rule requiring signs with the same message to be at least 30 feet apart. And some signs are still up.
If you want to put political signs up on your property, outside the road right-of-way, that should be your right. But I think they should be banned on public property, including along our roads. They really spoil the fall foliage for me. Candidates that want my vote should reach me in other ways, and then tell me what they intend to do for us if they get elected. I am not voting for anyone on the basis of their road signs. Nor should you.
If you were appalled by the huge volume of negative ads, I have a suggestion. Stop being influenced by them! If they didn’t work, candidates and political action committees would not be investing such huge sums to air them. Be aggressive and tell the candidates in your district that, if you get a negative ad from them, they will not get your vote.
Especially at the legislative level, most candidates are very accessible to you. Take the time to get to know them, ask them tough questions, and vote accordingly. Ignore those awful, nasty negative ads.
Without question, the huge amount of money now being spent on political campaigns — much of it from independent political action committees — is disturbing and distressing. It’s very difficult to stop, but I do have one reform to suggest.
Any candidate who is running as a Clean Elections candidate, using public funds, should not be allowed to also have a “leadership” political action committee. They do this ostensibly to raise money for other candidates and campaigns, but the money is also used to pay for lots of other things, from attendance at out-of-state meetings to purchasing chocolates to toss out to kids at parades. This should stop.
There is one reform that is absolutely essential, and that is to get rid of term limits. They don’t work and have led to dysfunction and poor leadership at the Legislature. If you’ve got a good legislator, why in the world do you think it’s a good idea to kick him or her out after just four terms?
Having hung out at the State House for 40 years, I can tell you that term limits have been very detrimental to the process. And if you think that somehow they have limited the influence of lobbyists, think again! Lobbyists now possess the historical knowledge that legislators need. I am often asked, these days, to explain the history of an issue being considered. Happy to do that, but it’s a shame that we have no legislators who can do it these days.
Finally, the best reform of all would happen if you got more involved in both the political campaign process and the legislative process. I’ll publish a column sometime soon with tips on how you, as a private citizen, can be effective at the Legislature. Yes, you can!