Clean Elections: The Latest Victim of Party Politics in Maine

The partisan bickering in the Legislature has claimed another victim: Clean Elections.

In 1996, Maine voters decided they’d had enough with how campaigns were funded, and they passed the Maine Clean Election Act. Candidates who choose to run “clean” can accept only a certain number of contributions to start, and only $5 contributions from voters in their district qualify the candidate to receive public funding.

It’s a great idea – you get local support and public financing, keeping big-money donors at bay and letting the power rest where it should, in the hands of the voting community.

But this promise – a social contract with the people, big gobs of money out and local control in – is in jeopardy for the same reason our roads and bridges, health care, environment and education funding is in danger. There is partisan gridlock in Augusta, and this session has been particularly bad.

The uncertainty around the Clean Election Act was created by something you probably didn’t even know existed – the “error and omissions” bill, a technical piece of legislation that usually passes without a second thought but, like so much else, got caught up in the political debate this year.

(T)his promise – a social contract with the people, big gobs of money out and local control in – is in jeopardy for the same reason our roads and bridges, health care, environment and education funding is in danger.
Crystal Canney

With everything Mainers are facing, do you really care about funding Clean Elections? The weighty issues of Medicaid expansion, tax conformity and more than 100 unaddressed bills remain on the table along with Clean Elections. Here’s why you might care that Clean Elections is in that mix: it allows a more diverse set of candidates who aren’t beholden to anyone but the people. It was passed already and shouldn’t be caught in the gridlock.

It matters that some politicians, with years of “experience” in Augusta, have failed to get this bill and all the others resolved during the last session. It matters who you elect, and it matters whether they are filling a seat or whether they are actually effective. It is clearly time to start asking the questions about effectiveness as we head toward the November election. The questions should dig deeper than the surface.

I have heard the refrain from those running for re-election that they couldn’t get it done because of the governor. I have listened as some candidates say, on the one hand, that they are working with Republicans, Democrats and independents then, with the next breath, add that they can’t get anything done because a small number of partisans are holding it up.

So, if you know what the numbers are, then build the coalitions to make it happen. Throwing up your hands and admitting to ineffectiveness is not acceptable. The voters are counting on more than that, which is why you got elected in the first place – to work on their behalf. Would anyone be allowed to keep a private-sector job if they finger-pointed their way to an ineffective outcome? I don’t think so.

The gridlock problem is complicated. Somewhere along the line, the partisanship has become so distorted that even those who don’t believe in a candidate will endorse them because they have been told by partisan leadership – “get in line.” That’s another side of our politics that is as bad as dark money and has a secretive price tag attached to it. It’s one reason, among many, that more people than ever are running this year as independents for the Maine Legislature.

As an independent and a Clean Election candidate, I, along with other candidates, hope to break the stranglehold that is clearly at work. In many ways, being an independent and a Clean Election candidate is about freedom. Freedom to talk with anyone willing to have the conversation. Freedom from big-money donors. The people have a right to demand that elected leaders get things done in Augusta and stop talking in circles about why they can’t be effective. If the partisans are serving their own interests, it’s time to consider the independent alternative.

Editor’s Note: This piece originally appeared in the Portland Press Herald, and has been republished with permission from the author.