Two announced candidates for governor, Nancy Oden and Bob Mills, have dropped their attempts to qualify for public funding, citing, among other things, the amount of paperwork required. Maine should have a serious standard for awarding public dollars to candidates, but it should be based on their ability to attract voters and not their ability to fill out forms. The Legislature should make certain that the Clean Elections law sets standards that relate to a candidate's leadership abilities.
Clean Election candidates must collect 2,500 $5 qualifying contributions, though to ensure they will have a sufficient number of names that are properly registered, they should get more than that. As many as 10 names can appear on each form, so a candidate has at least 250 forms to submit to meet this criteria.
The $5 contributions themselves make sense, and successfully gathering a lot of signatures and small donations demonstrates that a campaign is organized and strategic, two good traits for a governor. Effective use of limited funding is another necessity of governing in Maine.
Lawmakers should want to know to what extent a political party confers an advantage to a Clean Election candidate, whether the length of time for gathering signatures is sufficient or if it should be longer to give independent candidates time to become more organized, and whether the 2,500 donations is properly set. This year is proving to be a good test of the system, and with it too late to do anything about rules for the current election, lawmakers should wait until 2007 before concluding anything.
One issue may take care of itself. Currently, town clerks must verify that a contributor is a registered voter. Soon, that public information will be available on-line, providing an opportunity, at least, for candidates to verify that their contributors are properly registered. Maine has one of the nation's best e-government networks, according to a couple of studies; it likely can figure out how to streamline the town clerk's process, as well.
No matter what reforms eventually are made, the taxpaying public can support the Clean Election system on state tax forms by checking the box that sends $3 to the Clean Election Fund. The money comes out of taxes that would be paid anyway and is not in addition to those taxes, making it a no-cost expression of support for the election-financing system. The $3 contribution goes toward the public financing candidates receive once they get the proper number of donations and signatures. Though two have dropped, potentially another half-dozen publicly financed campaigns remain.