Elections are worth investment

Lewiston Sun Journal
Thursday, July 8, 2004

sun journal

Maine's Clean Elections law is working.

Unfortunately, it's also in danger of running out of money.

Of the 429 candidates who were on the ballot for June's primary, 308, or 72 percent, ran under the rules of Clean Elections.

Candidates utilizing the program are limited in their fund-raising and spending. The goal is to reduce the influence of money in elections, create more competitive races and increase the number of people seeking office by providing public funding.

The law limits the role played by big-money special interests and encourages voters to support candidates with $5 contributions.

The numbers make the case about the law's effectiveness. More people are running for office, and more of them are participating in the program. And they're winning. Clean Elections candidates made up the majority for all three parties this year, and they won in 91 percent of the contests.

Maine's Clean Elections law was adopted in 1996 by referendum. It has since served as a model for other states' efforts to reduce the money-chase of politics. The law created a voluntary system of public financing for candidates for governor and the Legislature, improved campaign finance disclosure rules and strengthened enforcement.

Contrary to opponents' claims, the law is not "welfare for politicians." By placing voluntary limits on spending, the law makes the playing field more level for challengers and reduces the seductive powers of large campaign contributors. Reducing the influence of money - and hopefully elevating the importance of ideas - is a goal worthy of public investment.

Each year, the Legislature sets aside $2 million for the program. But tough budget years have pushed lawmakers to raid the fund. Since 2002, about $6.75 million has been removed and used to fill holes elsewhere.

The law works. But it can't continue without appropriate funding. The Legislature should restore the money it has taken to ensure there's enough for future elections.