Maine Question 2 Seeks to End Foreign Interference in State Elections

Created: 24 October, 2023
Updated: 25 October, 2023
4 min read

Maine citizens will vote on a ballot measure this November that, if passed, would prevent foreign governments and foreign government-owned entities from spending millions of dollars to influence state elections each election cycle.

Maine Question 2 extends existing federal law prohibiting foreign electioneering in state elections and adds prohibitions to ballot measures, meaning no direct or indirect election spending from foreign governments or entities in which a foreign government has at least a 5% stake.

“Our Maine elections belong to Maine voters, and their voices should be centered in our elections,” said Kaitlin LaCasse of Protect Maine Elections. “A ‘yes’ vote on Question 2 would put Maine elections back in the hands of voters.”

Question 2 would include the nomination of candidates, but the main focus is the ballot initiative process. Federal law already makes it illegal for foreign governments to spend money on federal, state, and local elections – but not ballot measure campaigns.

“Foreign government-owned entities have spent over $100 million in Maine referendum campaigns in the last 3 years,” said LaCasse. “In this cycle, 83% of the spending has been by foreign government-owned entities.”

The Federal Elections Commission confirmed in a July 2021 ruling that it has no jurisdiction over state ballot measures – which means it is up to the states to adopt their own regulations on foreign electioneering in these elections.

As of 2023, 7 states (including California, Colorado, Maryland, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Washington) have banned foreign nationals from making contributions to ballot measure campaigns.

The issue in Maine goes back to 2020 when several state legislators sent a letter to Quebec Premier François Legault and Hydro-Québec requesting that Hydro-Quebec cease campaign activities in Maine – particularly as it pertained to influencing an upcoming ballot measure.

Then, in 2021, Hydro-Quebec continued to engage in electioneering in opposition to Maine Question 1, which would halt an electricity project in which the company and the province of Quebec had substantial stake. 

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The company and its allies spent tens of millions of dollars in their opposition. 

The Maine Legislature attempted to pass a bill that would prohibit election contributions from foreign government-owned entities, but despite an 87-54 vote in the House and a 23-11 vote in the Senate, Govenor Janet Mills vetoed the bill.

Mills argued that “entities with direct foreign investment employ thousands of Mainers,” adding that “legislation that could bar these entities from any form of participation in a referendum is offensive to the democratic process, which depends on a free and unfettered exchange of ideas, information, and opinion.”

But people who support ending foreign electioneering in US and state elections ask: What happens when foreign government-owned entities inject money and false information into elections in states like Maine for the benefit of the entity and foreign government?

Wouldn't that disrupt the democratic process that is supposed to be of, by, and for the people where the elections are taking place?

For example, opponents of Maine Question 1 in 2021 claimed thousands of jobs would be created by the electricity project in question, but the Public Utilities Commission reported there would only be 38 permanent jobs by the project’s completion.

Maine voters also would not benefit from the bulk of hydropower flowing from Quebec, because most of it was intended for customers in Massachusetts. 

Question 1 was approved by voters with nearly 60% of the votes. 

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The ballot initiative that would become Question 2 (2023) was approved for signature gathering in October 2021. One year later, Protect Maine Elections announced it submitted over 80,000 signatures to the secretary of state.

“Maine voters have a deep sense of civic duty,” said LaCasse. “I think this comes down to common sense. We should be centering our elections around Maine voters.”

Almost 68,000 of the signatures were validated and the initiative was certified to the Maine Legislature. Members of the legislature then sought to enact the ballot measure through a legislative bill. It’s a rare action as legislators typically leave it up to voters.

LaCasse said the bill was the first time in two decades both chambers passed a citizen-led initiative before it went before voters. However, the effort was once again shot down by Gov. Mills despite broad bipartisan support.

Because Protect Maine Elections gathered enough valid signatures, Question 2 is still slated for the November ballot – meaning it is once again up to Maine voters to shape the future of their democracy as they have done many times in the past.

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