In this June 30, 2021, file photo, Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, speaks outside the State House in Augusta. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine lawmakers who unsuccessfully tried to ban corporations owned or influenced by foreign governments from spending in state referendums filed on Wednesday to put their effort on the 2022 ballot.

It marks the fifth referendum effort targeting Central Maine Power Co. since last year and comes as an outgrowth of the political fight over its $1 billion corridor that would bring Quebec hydropower to the regional grid through western Maine. Voters will consider an anti-corridor referendum in November 2021 after Maine’s high court struck one from last year’s ballot.

Proponents now want voters to pass a bill vetoed this year by Gov. Janet Mills that would have prohibited companies with foreign government ownership from spending on referendum efforts in Maine. The proposed law would be largely modeled after that measure, which was sponsored by Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford. 

The referendum would also incorporate parts of another unsuccessful bill from Rep. Kyle Bailey, D-Gorham, that would increase disclosure requirements for foreign-owned companies and force media outlets to remove ads violating the law while calling on Maine’s congressional delegation to back an anti-corruption constitutional amendment.

CMP would not be directly affected by such a law. Neither would the corridor campaign set for this year. But Hydro-Quebec, CMP’s partner in the corridor project, would be barred from spending on future referendum efforts if it passed and was the target of Bennett’s bill. The provincial-owned utility has put more than $9.7 million into a political committee during the corridor fight.

“Maine elections belong to Mainers, and not to wealthy foreign interests,” Rep. Kyle Bailey, D-Gorham, who will be leading the campaign effort and ran the 2016 campaign that established Maine’s ranked-choice voting system, said in a statement.

Spokespeople for CMP and its political committee did not respond to a request for comment. CMP did not directly testify on Bennett’s bill this year, but a group funded by the utility alongside Hydro-Quebec and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce said it would unfairly keep companies from weighing in on issues that affect their business.

Proponents will likely try to begin collecting signatures as quickly as possible to hit the January 2022 deadline to get a question on the ballot next fall. CMP critics are also trying to get up to two questions on the fall 2022 ballot that would force a public buyout of the major electric utilities’ infrastructure and replace them with a consumer-owned utility.

Correction: CMP did not directly make the major arguments against Bennett’s bill in the Legislature, but allied groups, including one funded by the utility, did. An earlier version of this story was incorrect.