Bill would restore clean election fund

Portland Press Herald
Press Clips
Susan M. Cover

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Copyright © 2006 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

AUGUSTA - Rep. Earle McCormick, R-West Gardiner, used the state's public funding system to pay for his last two campaigns. And he plans to do it again.

But there may not be enough money to pay for all the candidates who want to use the system if the state doesn't restore at least $2 million, supporters of the system said Monday.

Since 2001, the Legislature has taken $6.7 million out of the fund to fill gaps in the budget, but it has given back only $2.4 million.

"We would like to see this go back to what was designed," said Alison Smith of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, "so that candidates can be sure this is a system that will be there not just today, not just this year, but in future years."

Smith, McCormick and Ann Luther, president of the League of Women Voters of Maine, told the editorial board of the Kennebec Journal that a bill to restore $2 million to the fund is needed to pay for this year's elections.

The fund's current balance is nearly $7.4 million, according to the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices. How much will be needed depends on how many legislative and gubernatorial candidates apply and qualify for the money.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Patrick, D-Rumford, has not yet been scheduled for a public hearing.

Maine voters supported the Maine Clean Election Act in 1996. It set up a system that allows candidates for state office to use public money to run their campaigns. Depending on the office sought, candidates have to collect hundreds of $5 donations to qualify for funding.

For example, those running for governor need 2,500 contributors to be eligible for the program.

McCormick said the program enables him to make decisions on bills without feeling pressure from businesses or lobbyists.

The $2 million request is not included in the $178 million supplemental budget currently under review, which means it may be a tough sell for some lawmakers, he said. But McCormick hopes legislators see the request as a restoration of funds owed to the program.

The fund is supported each year with about $250,000 from taxpayers who check off a box on their income tax forms.

Smith said those who use an accountant to prepare their taxes should specifically ask for the box to be checked. It will not reduce the amount of a refund or increase taxes owed, she said.

"It sends $3 of your tax money that you already pay into the fund," Smith said. "It sends a message that Maine people support campaign finance reform."