Panel presents Clean Elections funding options

Lewiston Sun Journal
Press Clips
David Farmer

sun journal

AUGUSTA - Faced with a Legislature that's down to counting pennies, the state's ethics commission presented new low-ball numbers Monday for how much it needs to fund Clean Election candidates this year.

The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, recognizing that sooner or later it would have to include the money for the Clean Election Fund in the supplemental budget, voted unanimously to allocate $1.2 million.

In February, the commission asked for about $5.7 million to provide qualifying candidates for state office with money for their campaigns. The committee took a look at the number and asked the commission to try again.

On Monday, the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices Executive Director Jonathan Wayne gave them two new options with much lower price tags.

In the first scenario, the commission envisions three gubernatorial candidates qualifying for public financing, which would require $1.2 million in additional funding from the Legislature. In the second, the commission projects costs for four gubernatorial candidates at $2.4 million.

"With the $5.7 million, the commission members wanted to ask for enough for all the Legislative candidates and all the candidates for governor who have announced that they would seek Clean Election funding," Wayne said.

The ethics commission estimates that more than 350 House and Senate candidates will qualify for public financing in addition to those who could qualify in the governor's race. In the general election, Clean Election House candidates are expected to get $4,362, with the possibility to qualify for another $8,724 in matching funds if their opponents exceed spending limits. Senate candidates are expected to get $20,082, with the possibility of another $40,164 in matching contributions.

It's unusual, Wayne said, for candidates to be approved for all of the matching contributions.

Gubernatorial candidates who qualify can receive up to $1.7 million for the primary, general election and in matching dollars.

State Sen. Peter Mills, R-Skowhegan, state Sen. Chandler Woodcock, R-Farmington, Green Independent Pat LaMarche and independents Barbara Merrill, John Jenkins, David Jones, Jeff Sandborn and Alex Hammer are all seeking public financing for the gubernatorial race.

Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat, is not seeking Clean Election funding.

While trying to avoid making any kind of statement about who is a viable candidate and who is not, the commission also had to assume most of the independents don't have a realistic chance to meet the tough standards necessary to get public financing, which include gathering 4,000 signatures and 2,500 $5 contributions from registered voters.

"It's unpredictable how many candidates for governor will qualify and how many candidates for the Legislature will qualify," Wayne said. "We're trying to avoid a situation in September or October where we run out of cash."

State Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, said the unanimous and prompt consideration of the funding requests sends a strong signal to candidates that lawmakers support the Clean Election Fund.