Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, speaks at a rally outside the State House in Augusta on June 30, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Proponents of the ballot initiative looking to bar foreign governments from spending on Maine referendums has one of the popular causes in the State House. They also have reason to be frustrated.

The group Protect Maine Elections, which is led in part by Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, released polling in March showing 82 percent support for the key piece of its initiative, which came about in response to spending from Hydro-Quebec on the 2021 referendum over the $1 billion hydropower corridor.

It has a wide coalition of supporters. But the referendum is the key one of the four tied up in what is now a legal dispute between legislative leaders and Gov. Janet Mills.

A wide coalition: Supporters range from U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from Maine’s 2nd District, to Republican legislative leaders. Proponents have qualified the question for the 2023 ballot, but they have been preparing a push for the Legislature to ratify the proposal itself, which would eschew a campaign.

But Mills and Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, both Democrats, said the Legislature’s procedural move to pass a budget and then adjourn to enact it means the questions are now slated for the ballot. In other words, they think lawmakers missed their chance to pass this.

Bennett disputes that, and top lawmakers are proposing to ask Maine’s high court to settle the issue. For now, they are holding legally required hearings on all the measures, starting with the effort aimed at foreign money on Wednesday afternoon.

The implications: While proponents have polling on their side, they also had spent virtually all of the $600,000 they raised by the end of April to get this on the ballot. They may not need much money to win their campaign, but the Legislature’s maneuvering could have cost them a cheaper shot at passage.

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...