AUGUSTA — The Maine House of Representatives voted today to eliminate public matching funds for clean election candidates who get outspent by privately funded opponents.

The 74 to 64 vote fell along party lines, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed. Lawmakers took up the issue in a response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the matching funds provision included in state clean election laws is unconstitutional.

Democrats wanted to preserve some way for publicly funded candidates to compete with private funding and special interest donors and said the House vote effectively guts the clean elections system approved by Maine voters in 1996. One proposal would have allowed candidates to receive additional taxpayer money if they are able to collect a certain number of $5.00 contributions from supporters.

“The Republicans are closing the door on the Clean Elections system that was mandated by the voters to limit the influence of special interests,” said Rep. Mike Carey, D-Lewiston.

Republicans, meanwhile, argued that the state can no longer afford to pay for campaigns.

“I am quite certain that the intention of Maine voters was not to help politicians pay for campaign signs and negative TV and radio ads. That’s especially true during these tight financial times when the state is struggling to pay its bills,” said House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland.

The Senate has also voted to strike the matching funds provision, which will effectively leave House candidates with a one-time distribution of $5,000, and Senate candidate with a one-time contribution of $21,400.

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