AUGUSTA, Maine — Early results of the statewide Question 1, which would reform Maine’s taxpayer-funded Clean Election system, showed the citizen-led initiative in a tight race with full results from Maine’s largest cities yet to be reported.
The initiative, which has seen a flood of activity on both the pro and against sides in recent days, was shaping up to be the closest race among all three of the statewide questions posed to voters on Tuesday.
Maine’s Clean Election system was launched in 1996 by citizen referendum with the intention of reducing the amount of private money in state elections. Participating candidates can collect small-dollar campaign contributions for the Maine Clean Election Fund in exchange for having their House, Senate or gubernatorial race funded with public money. Clean Election candidates are barred from raising private donations.
Previously, the fund gave $5,366 to House candidates in primary and general elections, $25,483 to Senate candidates and $1 million to gubernatorial candidates. In recent elections, those sums, especially for Senate and gubernatorial races, fell short of what some privately funded candidates have spent on their campaigns.
Under the new formula, gubernatorial candidates would be able to receive a maximum of $3.2 million, Senate candidates $65,000 and House candidates, $16,500.
Question 1 would raise allocations to the system from $4 million to $6 million in every two-year budget cycle. Though it doesn’t dictate where that money would come from, it would require the Legislature to eliminate “low-performing, unaccountable” corporate tax breaks that don’t demonstrate an “economic development benefit” as defined by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, which already has a proposal to evaluate business tax breaks.
The new law also increases penalties for campaign finance violations and adds new disclosure requirements.
Proponents of the measure, who call themselves Mainers for Accountable Elections and who have raised more than $1.3 million from mostly out-of-state donors, were organized months before the opposition, framing the initiative as a chance to increase election transparency, further eliminate special interest money in politics and make it easier for more Mainers to run for office.
An opposition group called Mainers Against Welfare for Politicians formed in September and has mounted a short but spirited campaign against the measure. Their message has been that taxpayer-funded elections are a waste of limited public resources and do little to eliminate special interest money in elections.
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