The amount of money that has been spent on recent statewide referendums has been obscene, and the public is failed when corporations are given free reign to influence elections.

That makes it tempting to support Question 2 on the Nov. 7 ballot, which would ban campaign contributions in Maine from foreign governments and entities owned by them.

But that would be a mistake. While there’s no doubt that corporate spending on campaigns distorts and corrupts our elections, that problem can’t be solved by arbitrarily choosing which companies can participate and which can’t, and it shouldn’t be addressed in any way that threatens the operation of a free press.

Question 2, in our estimation, does both. That’s why the Editorial Board supports a no vote on Question 2 on the statewide ballot.

Question 2 says: Do you want to ban foreign governments and entities that they own, control, or influence from making campaign contributions or financing communications for or against candidates or ballot questions?

To qualify as a foreign government-influenced entity under the proposal, a government must have an ownership stake of at least 5%.


The ballot question comes out of the effort by Hydro-Quebec and Central Maine Power to build a power transmission corridor through western Maine. Over concerns that spending by foreign entities could unfairly influence public debate over the project, lawmakers voted to ban foreign government spending in referendum campaigns.

Gov. Janet Mills vetoed the bill, however, and her veto was upheld. Hydro-Quebec, wholly owned by the province of Quebec, went on to spend more than $23.3 million to defeat a ballot question aimed at stopping the corridor. Avangrid, the Spain-based parent company of CMP, spent more than $42 million.

Proponents of the measure then collected signatures to put the matter before the Legislature once again. After another veto by Mills, the question is now up to Maine voters.

If the ban were in place today, Versant, ultimately owned by the city of Calgary in Canada, could not have contributed $8.4 million in the campaign against Question 3, which would force that company as well as CMP to lose their monopoly over electricity distribution in the state.

It may have applied, as well, to CMP; both Norway’s central bank and the government of Qatar own small stakes in the company’s corporate parent, Spain-based Iberdrola, though it’s unclear how much.

Our elections would be better off without the participation of corporations, which have the resources to outspend opponents, and every reason to use them to influence our vote.


The corridor is a $1 billion project. CMP and Versant take millions of dollars of profit out of Maine each year. It makes sense for them to spend a lot to protect that revenue, and leaves anyone who disagrees with them outgunned, unless they have their own corporate backers.

We believe that no corporation should have that sort of influence over public policy, and that every effort should be made to get money out of politics.

The Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case says otherwise, however, as does a FEC ruling on foreign spending on ballot questions. Until those are overturned or the Constitution is amended, any attempt to limit corporate contributions to elections will face an uphill battle in courts.

And even if it were to be upheld, Question 2 would still be unfair. The 5% threshold for foreign-government ownership is low and would likely apply to companies whose foreign ownership has no real influence over day-to-day activities. It would exclude some Maine-based companies from contributing to ballot questions while allowing others based solely on an arbitrary number.

And, of course, the vast amount of corporate spending on elections would continue unabated.

As members of the Maine Press Association, we also share concerns that Question 2 would place an undue burden on news outlets who would have to determine the source of campaign funds, and could restrict debate over matters of public policy.

To be sure, news outlets like ours benefit greatly from campaign spending on advertisements.

Still, the Editorial Board has argued for an end to Citizens United, and we would support a constitutional amendment to end corporate spending in campaigns.

We are fully in favor of getting corporate money out of politics. But Question 2 is not the way to do it.

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