We are gratified to report that we had one of the most successful legislative sessions in many years. You helped us do it!
We entered the session with a broad agenda, including important new measures to address the damaging effect of money in our democracy. Six months later, we celebrate the conclusion of a session that approved landmark legislation to continue Maine’s legacy as a people-centered democracy.
Here are the highlights:
Corporate Contribution Ban: Our top priority this year was to break the connection between corporate money and state candidates. Too often, Maine’s democracy has been tarnished by significant corporate money – whether from pharmaceutical companies, utilities, insurance conglomerates – flowing into the coffers of candidates who will soon decide legislation vital to those sectors.
In 2020, we wrote legislation addressing this problem and brought it to Senator Louis Luchini – the Senate Chair of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee.He agreed to sponsor the bill, and we began mobilizing our legislative efforts. Our goal was to make the case for this reform to all 186 legislators and see the bill through to the governor’s signature. We helped Mainers make more than 250 contacts with their legislators in support of the bill.
The bill also bans contributions from corporations to leadership PACs, and for the first time places contribution limits on other gifts to those PACs.
Over the course of many weeks, the legislature made some changes to the bill but finally advanced it to the governor’s desk. We were gratified when LD 1417 was signed into law on June 17, 2021. Maine now joins 22 other states and the federal government in banning corporate contributions.
Foreign Contribution Ban: Off-shore multinationals and even foreign governments have long attempted to influence our democracy, by both meddling in candidate campaigns and by spending heavily on ballot questions. The 2016 and 2020 federal elections were a case in point. But the ballot questions on the “corridor” brought this issue home to Maine.
MCCE believes that foreign corporations or those under substantial foreign influence should use diplomatic channels and, where appropriate, other means of providing information. But they should not be spending millions to influence voters participating in the democratic process. That’s why we supported bills to ban foreign money from ballot questions in Maine. Our goal was to enact a provision similar to the foreign contribution ban included in the federal For the People Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives but remains stalled in the Senate.
MCCE wants Maine to be a welcoming place for foreign citizens making their home here, and their participation can strengthen our democracy. But key court decisions have signaled that banning spending by foreign-influenced corporations might be one way to cut back on the explosion of corporate money since the notorious Citizens United decision in 2010.
We made real progress, fostering a robust discussion of foreign influence by corporations and foreign governments. But the end result was mixed. With bi-partisan support, the legislature passed LD 194, sponsored by Senator Rick Bennett. The bill was limited — only addressing money with direct ties to foreign governments. We wanted a bill that would sweep in money from corporations owned by foreign nationals. But even the minimal approach of LD 194 did not meet the approval of Governor Janet Mills, who vetoed the bill on June 23, 2021. On June 30, the Maine Senate narrowly failed to override the veto, falling two votes short. We are disappointed this proposal did not become law this year, but we will be back with a strong bill as soon as possible.
Candidate Ethics: We supported Senator Chloe Maxmin’s bill to strengthen ethics laws preventing candidates from spending campaign money to feather their own nests. The self-dealing measures in LD 1621 tightened up requirements against using a legislator’s family business to provide paid campaign services. We welcome these new rules and thank Senator Maxmin for her advocacy on this issue.
Clean Elections: For over 20 years, MCCE has been watching the legislative budget process to ensure sufficient funding for the Maine Clean Election Act public funding program. We are pleased to report that the current budget contains the funding needed for the next election cycle. We will continue to advocate for returning funds that were raided in previous years.
MCCE and our partner, the League of Women Voters of Maine, cheered several other legislative enactments that promise to make our democracy more inclusive, eliminate barriers to voting, and enhance election administration. Measures on ranked choice voting and the national popular vote were also on the table, but will not move forward this session.
Next session we will also be following carry over bills from Representative Lookner (LD 1658) to enhance the transparency of campaign finance reports in local elections, and from Senate President Troy Jackson (LD 1726) to address the scourge of political operations masquerading as news sites on the internet.
Overall, MCCE was pleased that the 130th Legislature responded to our call for further reforms. We did not get everything we wanted. We are already writing our list of revisions and innovations we will seek in the future and organizing our efforts to defend recent gains. But there is much to celebrate, and we thank you for making this important work possible.