The Legislature’s unexpectedly early adjournment — and leadership’s inability to get all of their work done sooner — left many important pieces of legislation in limbo.

This includes funding for public schools, the jail system, and Medicaid expansion, with a new addition to the potential casualty list recently added: funding for part of the Clean Elections program.

The initial disbursement of funds provided to candidates is not at risk, but any additional money distributed after July 1 is unlikely to be available thanks to a one-word typo.

These funds were intended to be available to candidates if they raised additional qualifying contributions, and were first implemented by the recent citizen initiative expanding Clean Elections.

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the idea of matching funds, where publicly financed candidates would receive more money if their privately financed opponents spent more — publicly-financed candidates have been at a major disadvantage. This additional funding was intended to help even that out without again running afoul of the courts.

Now, fixing this issue could not only be another partisan political football, but could help clarify the schedule for a special session. It seems unlikely that a special session will be called by either Gov. Paul LePage or leadership before the primaries in a little over two weeks, so a special session would have to happen between June 12 and July 1 to fix this and other budgetary issues. By then, we should know who the two major-party nominees are, barring a recount or litigation — which isn’t out of the question, especially with ranked-choice voting in use for the first time in Maine.

That could certainly have an impact on any attempt to clean up this funding issue. There are only three gubernatorial candidates running “clean,” but if one of them wins their party primary, it could change whether this problem is rapidly fixed. If Garrett Mason wins the GOP nomination, Republicans might well suddenly become more interested in resolving this issue. Even if one does oppose Clean Elections, after all, it’s hard to make the case that you shouldn’t fix a typo that has the potential to cripple your party’s gubernatorial nominee.

In that situation, it would be worth watching whether Democrats still want to provide the funding, or if they are willing to set aside their principles for purely political reasons.

In the reverse situation, if Betsy Sweet wins the Democratic nomination and a privately financed candidate is the GOP nominee, more Republicans in both chambers might be united in trying to block it. On the final day of session, the bill to correct this error sailed through the Senate, but was stalled in the House along with dozens of other bills.

If both parties nominate publicly financed candidates, any correction would probably sail through Augusta, while if neither does, then they both might suddenly lose interest in solving the problem, as independent Terry Hayes would be the only gubernatorial candidate affected.

Of course, none of this is fair to the hundreds of legislative candidates statewide who may have been counting on this money.

They’ve been planning their campaigns for months now — or perhaps even more than a year — and a key component of campaign planning is knowing how much money you’re going to have. Indeed, the biggest reason that the campaigns of seemingly promising potential candidates fizzle out early is that they can’t raise the funds necessary to stay competitive. Discovering that after you launch a campaign is always disappointing, and never easy to deal with, but it’d be a lot harder to handle if it was due to partisan gridlock and manipulation.

That’s why Republicans shouldn’t hold up a bill to fix the Clean Elections program. Though they are correct to oppose the policy on principle, and should keep making efforts to limit it or repeal it, so far those efforts have been entirely unsuccessful. Voters have now overwhelmingly endorsed the program twice — once choosing to expand it after it was limited in the budget.

If conservatives want to change Clean Elections, they should be making their case directly to the voters, not taking advantage of a typo in the legislative process.

Faith in our democratic system and our electoral process are important, and in Maine the Clean Elections program has become an integral part of that, for better or for worse. Hopefully, when the Legislature returns, they can make that change quickly, rather than throw another wrench into this year’s elections.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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