Clean Election Law keeps politicians focused on people

Kennebec Journal

kennebec journal

Copyright © 2006 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

Candidates for governor must collect 4,000 signatures and 2,500 checks for $5 each in order to qualify for the state's Clean Election program

That is a significant hurdle. The candidate must knock on a lot of doors, explain who they are and why they are running to people who may or may not be glad to see them, much less listen to them for five minutes.

In all likelihood, they must appear at Rotary and Kiwanis Club meetings, eating large quantities of rice, assorted vegetables and indistinct chicken dishes.

Finally, after all of this knocking and talking and listening and eating and talking again, they have to ask strangers for money, not a lot of money, but enough so that most people will think before signing the check.

This is hard, difficult work, particularly for independent candidates who do not have party organizations behind them to help collect signatures and checks.

Two independent candidates for governor who had planned to use public money have already said they will go another route, saying the system was either too hard or was poorly set up -- Bobby Mills, a Biddeford independent, dropped out because the checks he was collecting won't necessarily go to his campaign.

The checks go into a special account. Money from the account is doled out to those who qualify for the program in amounts that vary depending on which office they are seeking.

There are plenty of legitimate criticisms of Maine's Clean Election program, but for now, the program is like the description of democracy attributed to Winston Churchill: "the worst form of government, with the exception of all others."

It is flawed, burdensome and costly. But it is the best system available to make sure that Maine's politicians truly represent its people.

Yes, it requires candidates to meet what might be an onerous burden, but anyone who hopes to convince people to vote for them must first be prepared to meet a lot of Mainers.

And anyone who is asking for the responsibility of leading the state should be prepared to listen to and ultimately convince 2,500 Maine people that his or her candidacy is worth $5.

At a time when the nation's policies are too often hammered out in invitation-only meetings attended by the few who can write very large checks, Maine is right to require candidates who want public money to do exactly the opposite.

The great thing about small checks is that the guy who sweeps the factory floors is just as capable of writing one as the guy who owns the factory.

And because one $5 check is worth just as much as another, the opinion of the janitor is worth just as much to a Clean Election candidate as that of the man who signs the janitor's paychecks.

Politicians talk often about the importance of the common man or woman, but all too often, it appears that the money provided by lobbyists representing rich corporations or individuals is the most important lubricant in our national political machine.

As our Congress grapples with the very real corrupting influence of money in politics, Maine's Clean Election program, imperfections and all, is something we can all be proud of.