Money in Politics A-Z


A is for Access. What's one thing that money in politics can buy? ACCESS. When a corporation donates heaps of money to a candidate or political party, it buys them access to that representative. Or in other words, they get a bigger piece of the dialogue pie. 


B is for Black Lives Matter. History proves that our government, at state and federal levels, is slow to respond to the concerns of black, indigenous, and people of color. One of the many reasons that contribute to systemic racism is big money in politics. On one hand, our government will listen to the political interests of the wealthy, further aggravating centuries of inequality which leads to political inequality. On the other hand, private prisons donate to political candidates, parties, and outside spending groups to secure their interests. The industrial prison complex has exploded since the 1970s and disproportionately affects people of color, especially black men.

In many states, strict voter ID laws and felony disenfranchisement laws affect millions of potential voters. Approximately 5.85 million Americans with felony (and in several states misdemeanor) convictions cannot vote. The Black Lives Matter movement calls for a solution and end to the systemic racism that allows a culture of corruption to go unchecked and black lives to be taken. #BlackLivesMatter was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, and the demands have still not been met. Specifically, the top demand in 2020 is to defund the police. It comes as no surprise that BIPOC are less likely to be donors when our government and politicians continue to ignore our marginalized communities.


C is for Clean Elections. We have two upcoming elections left in 2020. Currently, candidates are running using Clean Election funds, which encourage citizens from all walks of life to run for office and to participate in the electoral process at all levels. Find out if your candidate is running clean by checking here.


D is for Disclosure. Why is it so important for candidates to disclose how and what campaign funds they receive? It's important for candidates to report these funds, to be transparent. Funds coming from dark money and PACs might remain invisible to the voter and represent only the interests of wealthy corporations. Disclosure benefits everyone, but more importantly, the information is there and available for the journalists who are writing about elections. These writers report on where the money is coming from, which benefits the public when they read about it in their local newspaper and perhaps didn't know how to find the information. Click here to follow the money in Maine elections.


E is for Elections. Leading up to any election, we always see an increase of ads, often negative, on television, Youtube, our Facebook feeds, newspapers, and radio. The time crunch before election day is a wild spree of spending money to sway voters. In many countries there's a blackout on campaign news before or during the voting period. The idea is that voters have a brief silence from all the media "noise" to think about their candidate(s) choice. So which approach do you think is better? A bombardment of ads or a blackout period right before an election?


F is for Foreign Contributions. Corporations based outside of Maine or even outside the United States sometimes have strong interests in Maine law and regulations. Lawmakers frequently consider bills relating to pharmaceuticals, finance, and consumer products originating in other countries. Yet while foreign corporations are prohibited from contributing to candidates, they are allowed to make contributions to initiative campaigns and issue-oriented organizations. Spending relating to Hydro-Quebec and the power corridor controversy has brought this issue to the attention of media and policymakers. Maine could ban this practice as the LWV recently testified. At least 11 other states already have laws banning foreign contributions in initiative campaigns, according to a legislator active in this issue.


G is for Graft. Graft is one of the most egregious forms of corruption, i.e. using public office for private gain. One timely example is when four senators sold their stocks in January 2020 after a briefing in the Senate, when it became clear that the coronavirus outbreak could significantly effect our economy. They unloaded their shares, which decreased in value a month later, and the stock market crashed due to the global pandemic.

President Trump has the luxury of staying at his own properties without having to divest from ownership. Additionally, the Trump company charges the people who accompany him, like the Secret Service, to stay in his hotels while traveling. While laws are in place to prevent obvious graft, many more subtle examples go unreported or under-enforced.


H is for Healthcare. Most Americans will probably agree: we spend a lot of money on healthcare. Over $3.4 trillion dollars to be exact. And when it comes to money in Washington, the healthcare industry is the biggest spender of lobbying dollars. After the Citizens United decision, when the Supreme Court ruled that the government could not limit corporate spending for advocacy advertising during elections, public health advocates were alarmed that this would cause conflicts between public health policies and corporate interests. Hospitals and the pharmaceutical industry lead the way in spending, totaling about $400 million in 2019 alone. This can be troubling when healthcare giants fight for corporate interests and profit over the health of Americans.


I is for Independent Expenditure. According to the Federal Election Commission, almost anyone can make an independent expenditure for or against a candidate. That includes individuals, groups, corporations, labor organizations and political committees. Independent expenditures are not contributions and are not subject to limits. What does an independent expenditure look like? As an example, a Super PAC, instead of donating money to a political candidate, could spend a ton of their own money on an independently produced ad that promotes their preferred candidate -- or attacks their opponent. 


J is for Judges. The U.S. is one of the (very) few countries that has elections for judges. Thirty-eight states hold elections to select judges for their highest courts, and luckily, Maine is not one of them. Here is why this is a good thing for Maine: judges are not politicians. They do not serve to follow popular opinion or to be swayed or lobbied by powerful people or corporations. However, when a judge has to run an election in order to secure the position, it means accepting campaign money. We have seen an explosion in special interest spending in judicial elections, a fallout effect from the Citizens United decision in 2010. It has created a massive gray area where "justice" and "politics" blend together. Learn more from this episode of Last Week Tonight about elected judges.


K is for Kleptocracy. Ever heard of the term kleptomaniac, a type of person driven by an irresistible impulse to steal? Kleptocracy is a word, and form of government, that stems from the same idea. In a Kleptocracy, corrupt leaders will use their political power to steal wealth from their citizens and nation. This is typically orchestrated through embezzlement or misappropriation of government funds. We combat Kleptocracy by having strong checks and balances, oversight mechanisms like Inspector Generals within each federal agency, and protections for whistleblowers. Learn more about how Inspector Generals are vital to bringing accountability to the federal government.


L is for Lobbying. It has been around since the 1640s in England, and the practice was brought over to America. It is right there in the First Amendment of the Constitution: the right to petition, which makes lobbying legal. In 1946, Congress passed the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act, which required that any person who spent the bulk of their time lobbying had to register with the government. Today, all kinds of companies, labor unions, trade associations and other groups spend billions of dollars to lobby our government. Some of these groups establish lobbying firms, many of them located along Washington's legendary K Street. In 2019, MCCE worked on a bill to ban lobbyist contributions to state legislators year round (those contributions were already banned during the legislative session). The bill passed but only applied to the individual lobbyists not the lobbying firms or the corporations that hired them. There’s still a long way to go to ensure lobbyist don’t have outsized influence on our legislators.


M is for Municipal. In Maine, state election laws govern most of the procedures for registering to vote and casting a ballot. But the state leaves the implementation of these laws up to the 500+ municipalities. From small towns with fewer than ten voters, up to Portland with 70,000 voters, municipalities are charged with running safe, fair, and efficient elections. And they must protect the fundamental right of all eligible people to vote. Municipalities play an underrated role in our democracy.


N is for Natural Resources. Oil and gas drive the competition when it comes to natural resource companies fueling money into our politics. Most corporations understand that government policy sets the rules that affect them in a variety of ways, from benefits they provide to employees, to restrictions on their ability to contaminate the air and water around them. To advance their interests, many corporations engage with the political process, including making contributions to candidates and others involved in election campaigns. In Maine, corporations in the energy industry gave over $333,657 to candidates, leadership PACs, and political parties from 2012-2018. 


O is for Open Secrets. is one of the original sources where you can follow the money trail in American politics. It was, and still remains, an important resource for transparency and disclosure of who's giving what to whom. It's one of the most comprehensive resources for federal campaign contributions, lobbying data, and analysis available anywhere. You can use this site to see what campaign funds political candidates are receiving ahead of the November election, including Maine's Senate and House races. Click here to start reading more about money in our Congressional races.  


P is for Pharmaceuticals. Ever heard of Big Pharma? It's a nickname given to the pharmaceutical industry, which is consistently near the top when it comes to federal campaign contributions. The industry has a huge stake in controlling drug pricing legislation and making "friends" with politicians and candidates. According to this source, Pharma is spending over $11 million this election season, especially while drug companies race to research and develop treatments and vaccines for Covid-19. The pharmaceutical industry has been in the sights of Maine policymakers for over two decades, and every session of the Legislature sees many bills attempting to rein in the cost of prescription drugs.


Q is for Qualifying Contributions. Maine has Clean Elections, which means candidates can run publicly funded campaigns without having to accept "dirty" money. So far in the 2020 November election, about 39,687 $5 contributions have been collected from regular Mainers – not huge corporations! Over 55% of candidates in local races are running clean campaigns, with 68.6% of the Maine Senate candidates and 51.8% of the Maine House candidates. Candidates can qualify for Clean Elections by collecting $5 contributions from voters in their district. Is your candidate running clean? Find out by checking here.


R is for Real Estate. The real estate industry is a powerful player in Washington, despite the crash of the housing market in 2008. The field of real estate agents and brokers contribute millions on lobbying efforts and campaign contributions. As an example, the National Association of Realtors spent over $25 million in the 2019-2020 election cycle. This influence not only applies at the federal level. These contributions can affect state and local races – the National Association of Realtors even made a contribution to a Portland city council race in 2018. In Maine, the state Association of Realtors (MAR) contributed nearly $250,000 to candidates, parties, and their PACs in 2012-2018. Now, that's an interesting development.


S is for the Supreme Court. Decisions like Buckley v. Valeo (1976) and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) have meant that we cannot regulate how much money campaigns spend during elections. And we cannot limit corporations ability to spend in elections through independent expenditures (see "I is for Independent Expenditure" above to learn more). With these limits in place, we can promote voluntary public funding with Clean Elections, and deter direct giving to candidates and their political action committees, like the Corporate Contribution Ban we are working on in Maine. For other reforms, we will need dramatic change on the supreme court, a constitutional amendment, or both.


T is for Taxes. Big corporations lobby for tax breaks and tax incentive programs. When they pay less in taxes and maximize tax incentives from the state, it increases their overall profits. But do those tax breaks increase economic development like the corporations claim? Tax breaks bring in bigger companies to Maine, and that's what the Pine Tree Development Zone program is designed to do. It comes with a number flaws, and lawmakers question the effectiveness. Finally, when we think about the revenue needed for everything that we want our state government to spend, like important infrastructure, the burden falls on individual tax payers. Does that seem fair?


U is for Utilities. Electric utilities lobby heavily in Washington, and utility corporations keep an eye on a variety of issues that can affect them, including clean air regulations and waste storage. Lobbyists spent $81,656,694 alone in 2020, whereas Congress received $18,548,093 in contributions during the 2019-2020 election cycle. A bill was introduced in 2019 in the Maine Legislature that would have created a large consumer-owned electric utility and required the state’s two large investor-owned utilities to sell their assets to the new entity. It would have ended our large utilities as we know them and positioned the state for expansion of renewable energy. The bill was pending when the Legislature adjourned in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.


V is for the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. Anytime Maine Citizens for Clean Elections submits a testimonial related to our advocacy efforts, the bill goes through this committee. It might seem strange that the Legislature works this way — where election bills are submitted through a Veterans Committee. In 2020, during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the VLA Committee met remotely. This new "normal" of working from home has allowed more folks to testify without having to travel to Augusta. Learn more about the VLA Committee here or learn more about how a bill becomes law in Maine. 


W is for Woah! In the general election cycle of 2020, Maine saw the most expensive senate race ever between candidates Susan Collins and Sara Gideon. The grueling race shattered all previous records, which included millions of dollars raised from sources outside of Maine. As we continue to see the ripple effects of Citizens United (2010), we're expecting to see money in politics continue to rise during election seasons, even when more money spent doesn't always equal votes or victory. 


X is for X-ray vision. 


Y is for You!


Z is for Zero.