HALLOWELL — Panelists who shared their views on money in politics came at the issue from different perspectives Wednesday, with one advocating no regulations and others saying stricter rules are needed to protect democracy.

“If people were free to donate as I would argue the Constitution allows, then they wouldn’t need to create shadow groups to hide their money,” said Lance Dutson, executive director of the Maine Heritage Policy Center.

On the other side, Alison Smith, president of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, said the state should put more limits on contributions and make sure average citizens have a seat at the table.

“The problem is when people view this as a game,” she said. “A lot of people think politics is a four letter word, but it’s how we organize ourselves.”

Dutson and Smith were two of six campaign finance experts who came to Hallowell City Hall for a forum sponsored by OneMaine, a group that advocates for less partisanship in politics. It was formed shortly after the 2010 campaign for governor by Eliot Cutler, an independent who finished second in the race.

Anthony Corrado, government professor at Colby College, said there used to be no question that an important part of campaign finance is disclosure. But in today’s political atmosphere, the debate is now over whether disclosure is necessary.


“There’s a loss of transparency and accountability the more and more money flows through organizations that don’t disclose donors,” he said.

While there’s concern at the national level about large amounts of money flowing through Super PACs, Jonathan Wayne, director of the Maine Commission on Ethics and Election Practices, said the problem is less prevalent in Maine.

“In Maine government, money in politics is a lot less,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean national groups don’t try to influence elections, said Colin Woodard, state and national affairs writer for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. He recalled the large amount of outside money spent two years ago on behalf of Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, to help get him elected to the Senate.

Katz had no control over the expenditures and denounced them. His Democratic opponent was hit hard by attack ads late in the campaign.

“It’s a terrible system for almost everybody involved on both sides,” Woodard said.


When an audience member said he was discouraged about the influence of big money in politics, especially when most people can only afford to give small donations, Smith said Maine citizens should take heart.

“The grassroots aspects of Maine campaigns are so important,” she said.

And, when it comes to the pesky negative ads that will soon fill Maine airwaves?

“Ultimately people have the power to listen to the message — or not,” said Michael Franz, government professor at Bowdoin College.


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