AUGUSTA, Maine --House Speaker John Richardson suggested Monday that Maine's Clean Election Act may need an overhaul to make it harder for "fringe" candidates to draw public funds that may well exceed $1 million in this election cycle for qualifying gubernatorial campaigns.
Richardson, D-Brunswick, said providing public funding to campaigns of candidates who have little chance of winning "could sour the public's perception of the Clean Election program."
"We may need to look closely and monitor this closely for changes that may be needed when the Legislature comes back in January," Richardson said during an informal briefing with reporters at the State House.
One of a number of possible changes would be ratchet up eligibility standards. Under present rules, candidates for governor must obtain at least 2,500 donations of $5 each.
Maine's Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, which oversees the taxpayer-financed system approved by voters a decade ago, has approved eligibility for three of the seven gubernatorial candidates.
Republican Chandler Woodcock, Green Independent Pat LaMarche and independent Barbara Merrill have received disbursements for their campaigns, and the commission is considering whether to approve eligibility for independent John Michael.
Democratic Gov. John Baldacci and independents David John Jones and Phillip Morris NaPier are financing through traditional private donations.
Qualified publicly financed candidates could receive $1.2 million each -- including initial distributions of $400,000 and subsequent matching funds of $800,000 -- for their campaigns, the ethics commission said. That could put the total for Blaine House candidates at $4.8 million.
Disbursements for legislative candidates will swell the overall cost by a few million dollars more. The program is popular with candidates for Legislature, with more than 230 House candidates and nearly 60 Senate candidates qualified to receive funding this year.
Legislative candidates' disbursements are much smaller than those for governor.
A coalition that led the campaign to put Maine's public funding law on the books says the Clean Election law is working fine, although it is in danger of running short of funding due to legislative borrowing.
"It may be premature to be making any firm or final decisions on whether any tweaking needs to be done," Eric Johnson of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections said Monday. "We'll have better information about it after this (Nov. 7) election -- who gets a healthy or small percentage of the vote."
The coalition also noted that in the general election this November, the majority of legislative races will be contests between two candidates using Clean Elections, "ensuring once again that the Legislature will have a majority of representatives who have no strings attached to special interests."
Richardson, who has received Clean Election funding in the past, is barred from running this year by the state's term limits law. Richardson said gubernatorial campaigns are his main concern.
Asked to define "fringe" candidates, Richardson said he considers such a candidate one who ends up with 1 or 2 percent of the total vote.
While acknowledging that the outcome can't be known when candidates apply for funding, he said, "Of all the ones that qualified, one of those candidates will get a very small percentage of the vote."
On the Net: Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices: http://www.maine.gov/ethics
© Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.