BREWER, Maine — Republicans on both sides of Question 1 sparred Thursday night over what the referendum to reform Maine’s program for taxpayer-funded political campaigns could mean for future Maine elections.

Though it was not a debate per se, former Sen. Edward Youngblood and Rep. Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst, informally squared off on the November ballot question during a meeting of the Penobscot County Republican Committee at Jeff’s Catering.

While the two area Republicans have worked together on matters of mutual interest for years, they part ways when it comes to the movement to reform — and increase funding for — Maine’s Clean Election system. In recent weeks, the two have written dueling oped pieces published by Maine newspapers.

“There is too much big money in politics,” said Youngblood, a former banker. “I ran as a Clean Election candidate, not because I didn’t think I could raise the money [but rather] because I don’t want to be beholden to anyone, regardless of how small the contribution is.”

Lockman, however, saw Question 1 as a potential drain on taxpayer money that would be better spent on taking care of the state’s elderly and other populations in need of assistance.

“This is the biggest expansion of welfare for politicians in Maine history, make no mistake about it,” he said. “But even worse than that it’s a blank check for expanding welfare to politicians. Nobody has any idea how much this ultimately cost Maine taxpayers.”

Question 1 on the ballot aims to strengthen the Maine Clean Election Act, a citizen-initiated effort passed by voters in 1996 to stem the influence of private money in state politics.

It allows candidates to run for state office by accepting small-dollar contributions to the Maine Clean Elections Fund, or “qualifying contributions,” that make them eligible to receive public money to run campaigns. Once they get it, they can’t raise private money.

If approved, the referendum also would increase public spending on elections by eliminating yet-to-be determined corporate tax breaks and more tightly regulate campaigns.

It would increase allocations to the Clean Election system from $4 million to $6 million in each two-year budget period and direct lawmakers to cut “low-performing, unaccountable” corporate tax breaks “with little or no demonstrated economic development benefit” as defined by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability.

BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.