Sen. Richard Bennett, R - Oxford, speaks at a news conference about his desire to override Gov. Janet Mills' veto of a bill that would have banned entities owned by foreign governments from influencing Maine elections, Wednesday, June 30, 2021, at the State House in Augusta, Maine. The bill was inspired by Hydro-Quebec's vast spending to convince Maine voters to defeat referendums that would sink Central Maine Power's controversial transmission project. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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Ken Fredette served as the Maine House Republican Leader for six years, and is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Here in Maine, I firmly believe that we’re at a crossroads in our policy process, specifically in elections and how we govern ourselves. Over the last two years, our state experienced something that, to my knowledge, has never happened before: a foreign government, through a Connecticut-based subsidiary,   launched a political action committee (PAC) to influence the outcome of a referendum that was initiated by   more than 80,000 registered Mainer voters and citizens.

The referendum campaign waged here in Maine over the past year by taxpayers of another country resulted in a political battle that was negative, deceptive and   more costly than any other referendum in our state’s history.

Ultimately, Mainers saw through this effort and voted accordingly. Yet the saga continues as the foreign government — the province of Quebec, which   owns Hydro-Quebec — now essentially refuses to accept the results of that election after spending   over $22 million trying to influence its outcome. It has joined a lawsuit to sue the State of Maine and prevent the referendum law from ever taking effect.

Regardless of how you voted on Question 1 in November, this is an unprecedented intrusion in our election process and should be cause for great concern for our state, for several reasons.

First, the Maine Legislature attempted to close this dangerous loophole last year. After gaining wide bipartisan support, the bill fell prey to a   veto by Gov. Janet Mills. This was then followed by an   intense lobbying effort by an army of lobbyists representing, in part, foreign governments and foreign corporations, some of whom stood to make huge profits off Maine’s natural resources by expanding a corridor through our rural communities in Western Maine.

Second, that foreign government action has now blazed the way for other foreign governments around the world to abuse our constitutionally defined referendum process that otherwise empowers only Maine citizens to directly set policy for our state through the referendum process.

Finally, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) recently blew the doors wide open for widespread interference in states with referendum processes across the country by   ruling that statewide ballot measures aren’t “elections” under federal law, and therefore don’t qualify for the protections afforded to all other types of election funding protections. The effect of this FEC ruling instead means that it’s up to individual states to pass laws protecting statewide and local elections from undue foreign government interference.

A number of states are fortunate enough to have already passed measures to protect their elections from this problem. Now, it’s time for Mainers to do the same. State legislators and the governor couldn’t get this done, so I have joined in the   effort to put a referendum question before the voters of this state to decide this issue for themselves. That’s why I’ve joined my good friend, Sen. Rick Bennett, as a lead signer of a referendum to   Protect Maine Elections from unwelcome foreign interference.

This referendum presents us with an important opportunity to make sure that what happened with Hydro-Quebec and Question 1 last November never happens again. This time it was energy policy. Next time it could be tax policy, the lobster industry or other energy issues. We are already collecting signatures all over the state to get this matter on the ballot for Maine voters to decide. Please join me and thousands of others to protect our great state.