Imagine if public policy for the next four years was determined in a huge arena with a public address system dominated and paid for by a few wealthy, mostly unknown, donors. As a private citizen, you still would have a voice — if you could afford to be heard. And you’d have a vote — if you hadn’t become discouraged by the time of the next election.

This symbolic arena increasingly reflects the current political system across the United States and, unfortunately, Maine. It is alarming in its power to undermine our democracy, but it can be stopped.

Stopping it is why two of us — one a Republican, the other an independent — along with hundreds of Mainers of every political stripe, are pitching in to pass the Clean Elections Initiative. Our aim is twofold: to increase transparency and accountability in our election laws, and to restore the Maine Clean Election Act we Mainers voted for by referendum in 1996.

The Clean Elections Initiative is Maine’s response to U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have trashed campaign finance statutes and ushered in an age of unprecedented political spending.

The infamous Citizens United decision of 2010 said that corporate funding of independent political spending could not be limited.

In 2011, McComish v. Bennett effectively negated the use of matching funds for publicly financed campaigns, a key element that had allowed Maine’s Clean Election candidates to compete with wealthy opponents.

Then, in 2014, McCutcheon v. FEC took the lid off how much the country’s biggest donors could contribute in each election cycle.

While the Supreme Court has upheld donor disclosure requirements, our laws have massive loopholes that allow unlimited money to be funneled into political campaigns with little or no disclosure. The result? The voting public today hasn’t a clue who finances either attack ads or issue ads.

In addition to restoring Clean Elections funding, our initiative will strengthen financial disclosure laws so that the public will have a better idea of who is behind political ads. It also raises the fines and penalties that may be levied against those who don’t comply.

Passage of the initiative would be a giant step toward not just restoring but rejuvenating the intent of the framers of the U.S. Constitution — that everyone should be represented in our democracy. Wealth is not an evil and shouldn’t be thought of that way, but we cannot allow it to become the prime instrument of political speech.

The power of our government must be kept in our hands, not those of the wealthy few or their lobbyists who, like traffic cops, direct the flow of campaign contributions to legislators, candidates and parties who support their interests. The electoral system should always promote the people first. As President Abraham Lincoln said, ours is “a government of the people, by the people, and for the people”

This cause is so important that it has spurred both of us to action. We are proud to count ourselves among the 80,000 Mainers who signed Clean Elections Initiative petitions. We also reached out to fellow voters last November, recruiting volunteers and collecting additional signatures in our towns. In both Orland and Winslow, the vast majority of the voters who signed needed little explanation of the initiative’s merits and readily put their signature on the petition. Fellow volunteers witnessed this same enthusiasm across the state.

Now we are embarking on an even bigger challenge — passing the Clean Elections Initiative at the polls this November. We are gearing up to engage voters in a statewide conversation about money in politics — the problems, and the solutions. This exercise in grassroots democracy will unite voters of all stripes to pass critical reforms to ensure that we all have a voice and a turn at the microphone.

The First Amendment expresses what is most important in Americans’ image of themselves and their cherished rights as citizens — particularly the equal right to free speech. Money should not be the unchallenged determinate of who gets to use the public address system in our political arena.

No matter what our political affiliation, the need to restore and rejuvenate access to our hallowed democratic institutions is a shared interest for the common good. Maine led the nation with passage of the citizen-initiated Clean Election Act. It is time for we, the people, to lead once again. Dirigo!

Peter Garrett, of Winslow, is a professional hydrogeologist, founder of Kennebec Messalonskee Trails, and board member of the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund. John C. Bradford, of Orland, is a four-year Navy veteran and retired carpentry contractor who served as state representative in Massachusetts from 1985-1992.


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