Do What is Right for Maine People: Fully Fund Clean Elections

• May 15, 2017

John Patrick and Jolene Lovejoy, Sun Journal

We belong to two different political parties. We were once political rivals who faced each other in a race for the Maine House of Representatives. One of us won and went on to serve seven terms in the Legislature; the other continued to serve in local office and on nonprofit boards. It is safe to say we don’t agree on much in politics. But, when it comes to Maine’s democracy, we are Mainers first.

 

Keeping Maine’s elections and government of, by and for Maine people is equally important to both of us. That is one reason that both of us proudly ran for office as Clean Election candidates, and why we, along with the majority of Maine people, strongly support this important and groundbreaking law today. 

Right now, legislators have a chance to show how deeply they care about preserving our democracy as they take up a large number of bills relating to elections and campaign finance, including Clean Elections.

On the legislative docket are proposals that would strengthen our democracy. These measures increase transparency, reduce the influence of special interests and ensure our citizen-initiated Clean Election law works well.

Sharing that docket are bills that would hinder our democracy. Those proposals reduce transparency, diminish Clean Elections and undermine important reforms made by voters at the ballot box.

We advise the 186 members of the 128th Maine Legislature to put partisan and ideological concerns aside and do what is right for Maine people. Keep Maine’s democracy strong by strengthening, not weakening, its foundations.

First and foremost, that means fully funding and implementing Clean Elections, including all provisions of the successful 2015 ballot initiative that updated and strengthened the law.

It also means supporting bills that aim at reducing the influence of big-money special interests. One bill would close a loophole in current law that lets lobbyists use campaign contributions to curry favor with legislators. For years, lobbyist contributions have been prohibited — but only while the Legislature is in session. Predictably, fundraiser events soliciting contributions from lobbyists occur right before and right after the session, making a joke of that ban. Lawmakers should extend the ban year-round.

A bill to ban legislator-controlled political action committees also awaits action. There is no good reason for individual legislators to start up their own PACs when they can already raise money for their campaign committee, caucus committee, and political party committee. This proliferation of PACs just opens the door to more special interest influence over policy and elections.

Other good proposals would make voter registration automatic. Eliminating barriers to voting sends the right message — that every citizen has an equal right to share in the process of self-government by voting.

Legislators should take up one piece of unfinished business from the last session, which is identifying and cutting wasteful tax expenditure programs to offset the cost of Clean Elections. This important provision is part of the 2015 citizen initiative that has yet to be fulfilled. The people of Maine understand that many of the same lobbyists working to create tax breaks for special interests are giving large sums to PACs and candidate campaigns.

Finally, the Legislature must defeat all democracy-weakening bills.

Some of these are downright silly, such as one that does nothing more than remove the word "Clean" from the Maine Clean Election Act.

Other bills are more damaging. One would slash the funding available to candidates who use Clean Elections, rendering the program far less viable for many candidates and increasing the role of private money in our elections. Another would entirely eliminate the Clean Election option for gubernatorial candidates. Lawmakers should not force gubernatorial candidates to "dial for dollars" from wealthy special interests while running for Maine’s highest office.

There is much discussion of the citizen-initiative process itself and, alarmingly, whether to implement the laws that voters have already enacted. We advise lawmakers to respect the will of Maine voters, who, we remind them, are the same voters who put them in office.

Maine people have repeatedly demonstrated how highly they value our inclusive, participatory democracy. We have high voter turnout and we pioneer groundbreaking reforms. Legislators who take a strong stand on how we conduct our democracy will earn the thanks and support of the people they serve.

Most people serving in the Maine Legislature are decent and well-intentioned folks who want to do right by their constituents. When voting on all these bills, we ask them to be mindful that our democracy is our most precious asset. If we continue to protect and nourish it, government of, by and for the people will be the greatest legacy we leave to the next generation. And all of us — left, right and center — can surely agree on that.

You can read the full article article by John Patrick and Jolene Lovejoy here

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