AUGUSTA — The Legislature has given initial approval to a bill to pump money into Maine’s public campaign-finance system, which may be called upon to support the election bids of 262 State House candidates this year.

However, the margin of support in the House isn’t wide enough to overcome an expected veto by Gov. Paul LePage, who fiercely opposes taxpayer funding of political campaigns.

The House voted 81-65 Monday and the Senate voted 26-9 Tuesday to approve the measure, which would quickly provide $500,000 to the Maine Clean Election program before the end of the fiscal year in June and potentially another $500,000 later this year.

Twenty-six of the 65 House Republicans who voted Monday against the early transfer have applied or qualified to run as Clean Election candidates this year. Two of the nine Senate Republicans who voted against the transfer Tuesday also have applied to use public funding in their re-election bids. Democrats have unanimously supported the bill.

The accelerated funding is required because the Legislature has repeatedly raided the fund for other programs, including $1.7 million last year. Also, more lawmakers plan to run as Clean Election candidates, following voter approval of a ballot measure that increased annual funding from $2 million to $3 million.

In February, the executive director of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices told legislative budget writers that the system could run out of money before the November election, threatening future participation in the program.

More Republican support will be needed for a veto override, which requires a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate.

Republicans who oppose the bill say the state shouldn’t allocate funding now that may be needed next year. Supporters counter that the advance transfer wouldn’t be needed if the Legislature hadn’t repeatedly raided the Clean Election fund.

Lawmakers have taken $12 million from the fund since 2002, including $3.4 million through the fiscal year that ended in June 2015. The Legislature has repaid $5.6 million, but Jonathan Wayne, director of the ethics commission, told lawmakers in February that the voter-approved program, which is designed to limit big-money influence on legislative and gubernatorial candidates, could run into a “cash flow problem” later this year.

If the program runs out of money, it will suffer a “black eye” that could lower confidence and participation among candidates, said Wayne, whose agency oversees the campaign finance system.

Last week, the group that helped create the first-in-the-nation system, and ran the ballot campaign to bolster it last year, held a rally at the State House to demand that lawmakers repay the raided funds.

Andrew Bossie, director of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, said it was time to end the “cycle of mismanagement” of the Clean Election fund and repay the money taken from the program last year. Bossie specifically called out legislators who voted against the bill yet were using the program to finance their election campaigns.

“It is complete and utter hypocrisy to run as a Clean Election candidate and then turn around and vote against funding for the program,” Bossie said.

According to the commission, 201 House candidates and 61 Senate candidates have applied for funds in the Clean Election program. That includes 128 Democratic and 69 Republican candidates for the House, and 33 Democratic and 23 Republican candidates for the Senate.

The bill to add money to the fund, L.D. 1579, requires additional votes in the House and Senate before it is sent to the governor.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

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Twitter: @stevemistler