State OKs $2.4 million for Clean Election Fund

Bangor Daily News
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Jeff Tuttle

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The Maine Clean Election Fund received an infusion of cash from the Appropriations Committee late Tuesday, with the panel setting aside $2.4 million to help fund gubernatorial and legislative candidacies in 2006.

Backers of the public financing system, which uses taxpayer dollars to finance political campaigns, had requested $4.7 million to replenish its coffers and prepare for next year's campaign season, expected to cost more than $10 million.

By far the most expensive contest in 2006 will be the governor's race, for which Clean Elections officials have budgeted $4.6 million presuming three candidates use public funding.

Gov. John Baldacci, who raised money privately during his 2002 campaign, has said he is considering running as a "clean candidate" in 2006.

"He's inclined to because he supports it, but he hasn't decided," Baldacci spokesman Lynn Kippax said Wednesday.

The move would prohibit Baldacci from raising private money and likely limit his spending to about $1.7 million, according to Doug Clopp, Democracy Project coordinator for the nonprofit Maine Citizen Leadership Fund.

"That would be a very real victory for clean elections," Clopp said of the prospect of a major gubernatorial candidate using the system, which its backers contend has helped remove special-interest influence from government and pave the way for such populist programs as Dirigo Health.

Should Baldacci win a second term, he would be only the second governor to prevail using public funding. The first was Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, who won her 2002 race against a privately funded opponent.

Voters in Maine and Arizona were among the first to approve public financing in 1996.

Since Maine implemented its system in 2000, it has disbursed about $5.6 million to candidates, according to Jonathan Wayne, director of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, which administers the fund.

While the Appropriations Committee's actions might help stabilize the fund for 2006, the system itself still has its enemies including Rep. Gerald Davis, R-Falmouth.

"The state is obviously in a financial crisis and [the Clean Elections program] costs more and more money every year," said Davis, whose bill to abolish the system goes before the Legislature's Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee next week. "It's unsustainable, and there are a lot of other problems with it."

Despite his objections, Davis is realistic about his slim chances of dismantling the system, equating his bill to "throwing snowballs against the wind."

The system has proved especially popular among legislative candidates, and in 2006, the commission estimates that it will spend roughly $5 million on those races.

In 2000, one-third of candidates used public funding. In 2004, that number rose to 78 percent.

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