Question 1 on Tuesday’s statewide ballot Nov. 3 will give voters an opportunity to revitalize the landmark legislation that launched public campaign financing in Maine, and they should take it.

Popular in its first decade, the Clean Election system — for which candidates qualify by collecting small contributions — was undercut by two Supreme Court decisions. The first allowed independent, unidentified organizations to make unlimited campaign contributions. The second eliminated a provision that boosted funding for publicly financed candidates when they’re outspent by privately funded opponents.

In Maine, outside spending in legislative races went from $600,000 in 2008 to $3.6 million in 2012, according to Maine Citizens for Clean Elections. And Clean Election participation fell from more than 80 percent of legislative candidates in 2008 to 53 percent in 2014.

The proposal on Tuesday’s ballot would increase the penalties for violating campaign finance regulations; require organizations that buy political ads to disclose their top three donors, and expand the amount of money available to publicly funded candidates.

To help boost allocations to the Clean Election system (from $2 million to $3 million per year), Question 1 would eliminate “low-performing, unaccountable” tax breaks to businesses — prompting the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and several economic development groups to declare their opposition to the ballot question.

But these corporate incentives are hardly an across-the-board success. We know that $16 million in taxpayer money meant to revive a northern Maine paper mill instead went to out-of-state financiers.

In fact, there are 59 business tax-incentive programs in Maine, costing a total of $300 million a year — and the state agency that administers the initiatives has yet to determine whether they’re helping to bolster economic growth.

If Question 1 passes, the tax breaks would undergo a long-overdue evaluation, pinpointing the ones that aren’t working and freeing up a modest amount of money for a good cause.

While it’s true that the pro-Question 1 campaign itself has received money from Proteus, a nonprofit group with unclear spending sources, that shouldn’t be allowed to derail Clean Election reform.

The campaign has practiced what it preaches: It has registered with the state as a ballot question committee, so it can’t stockpile money anonymously but must report all of its expenditures. As well, it has supported a Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics proposal that would compel nonprofits like Proteus to reveal their donors.

Approval of Question 1 will help encourage transparency in Maine politics and empower candidates who answer to the people they serve, not to special interests. To keep Maine a model for election reform, Mainers should vote yes on Tuesday.


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