Public election funds "cleaned" out

Publication: 
Kennebec Journal
Section: 
Press Clips
Author: 
Susan M. Cover
Tuesday, February 15, 2005

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Copyright © 2005 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

AUGUSTA -- Supporters of the state's Clean Election system hope to convince legislators to restore $2.3 million in funding to encourage candidates to run in 2006.

In the last four years, the state has raided the fund to close budget gaps, leaving advocates worried there wouldn't be enough money left to pay for the next round of House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates.

"The Maine Clean Election Act faces a very serious insolvency issue," said Doug Clopp, project coordinator for the Maine Citizen Leadership Fund.

In a meeting with the editorial board of the Kennebec Journal, Clopp and two other supporters said they would meet with the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee on Thursday to make their case.

Voters supported a citizen referendum in 1996 to create the Clean Election system, which allows candidates for the state House, Senate and governorship to use public money to fund their campaigns.

Clopp said the system, implemented in 2000, has been successful in getting rid of private contributions to candidates that can influence the political process.

It's also made elections more competitive by allowing those who don't have a lot of money to run for office, he said.

But in recent years, the fund has been depleted to help pay for other state needs. Clopp estimates there needs to be about $8 million in the fund to pay for the 2006 election.

There's about $3 million in the fund now, and Gov. John Baldacci has committed $2.4 million in the 2005 supplemental budget. That leaves Clopp and other Clean Election supporters trying to convince legislators to put an additional $2.3 million back into the fund.

Clopp said that won't cover all of the money that's been taken out in recent years -- only what the fund needs to pay candidate expenses in 2006.

Ann Luther, president of the League of Women Voters of Maine, said more candidates have run since the inception of Clean Elections.

"It is better to have a legislator in touch with constituents and elected in a competitive race, making difficult decisions, than it would be if money were playing a bigger role," she said.

The Appropriations Committee on Thursday will begin review of the 2005 supplemental budget, an $81 million bill that adjusts state spending through June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

Appropriations chairwoman Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, said the committee will listen to the request.

"Things are very tight," she said. "We will listen to (Clopp) explain the need."

Susan M. Cover -- 623-1056

scover@centralmaine.com