Clean Election candidates: Way to go or no?

Portsmouth Herald
Press Clips
Beth LaMontagne

Democrat Sandra Roseberry of South Berwick, Maine, says she's running as a Clean Election candidate for state representative because she never would have been able to do it without state funding.

"I'm not personally wealthy," she said. "I never thought I could run a campaign. ... This has provided a means for me to do this."

In the weeks leading up to the April 18 filing deadline, Roseberry gathered 50 donations of $5 each from registered voters in her district.

"If you want to meet all the people in the community that you want to serve, it's not that hard to collect the 50 checks," said Roseberry. "The hard part was asking for that first check."

Roseberry is now set to receive $4,362 to run in this fall's election.

"When this was all first explained to me, I said, "Ugh, I hate people coming to my door. ... I don't want to do this,'" she said. "But the more I realized the value of this system ... the easier it became."

By going door to door and meeting with potential donors, Roseberry said she learned what the people she hopes to serve want from their representative.

Roseberry's Republican opponent and current state representative for Eliot and South Berwick, Sarah Lewin, said she is adamantly opposed to the Clean Elections law and that candidates who "feed at the public trough" should be ashamed of themselves, even those in her own party.

"This, to me, is welfare for people who can't be bothered to go out and raise their own money," said Lewin. "I'm not nuts about doing it either, but the fact of the matter is, if you want the job, you should be willing to raise the money to do it."

Lewin, known for being a fiscal conservative, said she thinks it's ridiculous to spend money on promoting candidates.

"We're all broke; we can't pay our bills ... and here we are going to take more money from taxpayers for nonsense," she said. "I'm going to raise my own money the way I always have."

Lewin said she pays for her campaign by taking small, $10 to $20 donations from friends and family and holds a few fund-raising events. The only out-of-state money she has ever taken was from her brother in Arizona, and she said she has sent donations from companies she didn't know back to the donors.

To suggest that the Clean Election laws stop back-room dealings is "a lot of bologna," said Lewin. If politicians are corrupt, they will find a way to cheat the system, she said.

Roseberry disagreed, saying Clean Election money gets more people involved in the political process because they view their $5 donation as an investment.

"I believe it allows many more people to be able to run and gives a better representation of all the people, instead of just limiting it to people who have enough personal finance or business contacts to support them," Roseberry said.

The Maine Clean Elections Act was passed in 1996 and was first implemented during the 2000 election. Each candidate, depending on the office sought, must gather a certain number of $5 donations. Representative candidates need 50 checks, senators 150 and those running for governor need 2,500 checks from qualifying voters.

This law has already become an issue in the upcoming gubernatorial campaign.

Republican state Sen. Chandler Woodcock has qualified for $200,000 to run a "clean" primary campaign. His opponent for the GOP spot in the final election, former U.S. Rep. David Emery, is running a privately financed campaign and has been outspoken on his disapproval of the funding law.

"We all know how $400,000 in state funds can be better spent," said Emery in a press release, adding that this amount of money can send 58 state students to the University of Maine for a year, pay for a year of food stamps for 219 families and buy 165,289 gallons of fuel oil.

"When people ask me what programs I would cut to bring our budget back in line, taxpayer funding of gubernatorial campaigns is near the top of my list," Emery said.

According to a list provided by the Maine Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, 277 candidates have been approved for Clean Election funds and 62 have filed intentions to run a clean campaign. Compare these numbers to the 153 candidates running privately funded campaigns and public candidates outnumber the private 2-1.

Each House candidate can qualify for up to $1,504 to spend in the primary and $4,363 in the general election; each Senate candidate can get $7,746 in the primary and $20,082 in the general election; and each gubernatorial candidate could get up to $400,000 in general election funds and $800,000 in matching funds.

Kittery Rep. Walter Wheeler said he has run as a clean candidate three times and after each election has given a substantial chunk of the funds back to the state.

"Otherwise, I would have to get more money out of the people," said Wheeler. "The way things are today, it's kind of tough." He said, regardless of what way you fund-raise, you have to get money from the people one way or another.

Roseberry said she understands the concern about the tax money, but it's worth it.

"What it's costing the people of Maine by losing control of their government is a much higher price than the Clean Election fund," said Roseberry.