Portland & Clean Elections: March 21 Update

Tuesday, March 21, 2023
Anna Kellar

Last week, the Portland City Council had a pubic hearing on the future of the Clean Elections program. We are encouraged by the thoughtful discussion and work that has gone into building a solid Clean Elections ordinance. As we recommended (see our memo), the Council is leaning toward an approach that closely mirrors the Maine Clean Election Act, while remaining open to modifying and improving the program in the future.

But there are two areas where we have concerns: 1.) sufficient resources for the program in the budget and 2.) the availability of supplemental funds for candidates. A high rate of candidate participation in the Clean Elections program in the first year will be crucial to its long-term success, and candidates need to have confidence that the program will let them run competitive campaigns. 


How you can help:

The City Council will have another workshop on Monday, March 27, and you can help by contacting them (email council@portlandmaine.gov) and tell them you want to see what we've highlighted below:

  1. Sufficient funding in the budget.  
    1. More information: “Sufficient funding” is at the heart of our new law. The proposed charter amendment was originally challenged and litigated by the City over concerns that the phrase “sufficient” funding meant that the City would have no choice but to pay for whatever the program needed. Now, that issue has been settled in law. The Council must appropriate sufficient funds or it is in violation of the charter. In addition, adequate funding is critical in this first year. A funding shortfall due to high candidate demand would profoundly damage confidence in the program. Therefore, it is especially important to allocate more money than is expected to be needed in the first year. Unneeded money and money returned unspent at the end of the cycle would help to build the fund for future years, and future appropriations could possibly be smaller. 
  2. The ability of candidates to “right-size” their campaigns through supplemental funding.  
    1. More Information: If a candidate using Clean Elections anticipates being outspent by their privately-funded opponent or needs additional funding for a very hotly contested election, they should be able to collect additional qualifying contributions and receive additional funding, up to a reasonable total cap. Conversely, if a candidate doesn’t expect an intense race, they can be content with the minimum amount — we shouldn’t raise the initial amount for all candidates just to cover those races that require the additional funds (see footnote below). While the late disbursement of initial funding proposed in Portland may argue for fewer intermediate opportunities to qualify for additional funds, one or two supplemental deadlines in late September and early October seem reasonable. Candidates could also be allowed to turn in additional QCs and qualify for higher funding (following set amounts) at the initial qualifying deadline. 

Read our full set of recommendations here. You can watch the first workshop and see the initial presentation to the Council here. At the next workshop on March 27 at 5 PM, the lawyers working on the ordinance will present language for the Council’s review.

Thank you for your action in support of Clean Elections in Portland!