A legislative panel voted 8-1 Friday in support of a proposal from Sen. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, to reduce the maximum contribution to candidates seeking municipal office.

The Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee voted to lower that limit to $500 – a threshold that was supported by the House in the 125th Legislature.

Chipman originally proposed a bill to undo a change made in 2011 that increased the maximum contribution from $350 to $750. The maximum donation is adjusted for inflation every two years and currently stands at $850.

“In the time I have lived in Portland, I have seen campaign expenditures skyrocket. I have seen upwards of $100,000 spent on local races, which is more than anyone should be spending,” Chipman said in a written statement. “This bill would help us get back to the true nature of campaigning, in local grassroots efforts going door-to-door, not with big money.”

Chipman’s goal was to align the maximum municipal contribution to the legislative maximum, which remained at $350 after the 2011 change but has increased to $400 because of inflation. But the committee noted that legislative candidates can raise money for a primary and a general election, which they said justified the $500 figure for municipal candidates.

During a Feb. 25 public hearing, only three comments were taken. In addition to Chipman, the bill was supported by the Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, while the Maine Municipal Association said it did not yet have a position.

In recent years, some Portland City Council candidates have raised over $20,000, while mayoral candidates have raised more than $100,000.

For the upcoming mayoral election, Mayor Ethan Strimling already has raised nearly $43,000 in two months, largely from labor unions, for his re-election bid. Sixteen people made the maximum donation of $850, 42 people made donations over $350 and 35 people contributed over $500.

In 2015, Strimling raised more than $117,000. That was $50,000 more than the $80,000 he raised in his unsuccessful bid for mayor in 2011.

Despite being the largest fundraiser so far among municipal candidates, Strimling recently called on the city to “get the big money out of municipal politics” by creating a municipal clean elections campaign, where candidates would become eligible for taxpayer money. The state has a similar program.

And Strimling continues to aggressively raise money for his reelection, even though he says he hasn’t made a final decision about running. In a recent email, he cast himself as the target of “monied interests.”

“And now, the monied interests in Portland are fighting back,” he said. “They have made it clear they will spend big to take the mayor’s office away from the people. Some are saying they will spend $200,000, almost double what we raised last time, to stop the progress we are making.”

The winners of recent at large City Council races have raised nearly $50,000 or more.

City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau raised about $21,000 for his re-election to the District 2 seat last year.

Last November, voters overwhelming approved a charter amendment put forward by City Councilor Belinda Ray to increase transparency in municipal campaign finance reporting. Candidates must now file an additional campaign finance report 42 days before the election, like state candidates, in addition to their 11-day pre-election report.

Both Ray and Thibodeau are running for mayor this year. They will not be required to file campaign finance reports until this spring/summer.

Ray raised nearly $7,500 for her re-election bid last year without accepting donations from corporations or political action committees. Nine contributors donated more than $350, including two who have over $500. Only one contributor gave an $800 donation, the maximum last year.

Thibodeau’s campaigns had 16 donors who gave more than $350, including seven who gave more than $500. Six of those seven gave the $800 maximum.

Chipman said he supports the amended version of his bill.

“This bill will go a long way towards getting money out of politics at the local level,” he said.

The bill faces additional votes in the House and Senate. If enacted, it would take effect Jan. 1, so it would not affect the next round of elections.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: randybillings


Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.