First Run of Portland’s Clean Elections Program a Success

Monday, November 13, 2023
Anna Kellar

Election Day results have proven that Mainers care about issues surrounding money in politics. Maine Citizens for Clean Elections (MCCE) want to highlight the success of the Portland Clean Elections program.

Portland Clean Elections & Strong Candidate Participation 

Of the 13 candidates in contested races, seven chose to use Clean Elections. This excludes the uncontested school board seats, where no money has been raised by the sole candidates. 

This 54% participation rate, while lower than the 63% average participation by state legislative candidates in the Maine Clean Elections program in 2022, is significantly higher than the 30% participation of candidates when that state program first rolled out in 2000. 

Many candidates have chosen to take advantage of the opportunity to secure supplemental funding beyond their additional distribution. One candidate stayed at the initial distribution, one maxed out with all three supplemental payments, while the remaining took one or two additional payments. 

“While we intend to interview all candidates to determine how Clean Elections played into their campaign strategies, this variety of usage suggests that the supplemental funding and total amount available was appropriate to the needs of candidates and that candidates were able to right-size their campaigns,” said Anna Kellar, Executive Director of MCCE.

Spending is Down
The total amount of election spending is down when measured against the last comparable years.

In 2019, a record $330,239 was spent on the mayor’s race, with two candidates spending well over $100,000 each. This year, the total is $200,899 raised, some of which may return to the Clean Elections fund if unspent. The largest campaign, Andrew Zarro, who is using Clean Elections has raised $84,368 and spent $65,643. Two of the five (six if counting the declared write in) candidates are using Clean Elections.

Similar dynamics apply to other offices when compared to the last time these seats were up in 2020. The total spent on city council and school board this year is $56,679, compared to $99,389 in 2020.

In the at-large council race this year, the two candidates, both using Clean Elections, have raised $33,833,80 and spent $26,181 so far. In 2020, the four candidates running spent a total of $58,517. 

The only races with higher spending year on year are the district council seats, where this year $10,657 has been spent in District 4, and $14,030 in District 5. In 2020 those races were $8,915 and $12,053 respectively. In both districts, there is one Clean Elections candidate and one using private funding.

In the at-large school board race, the two candidates, one of whom is using Clean Elections, have raised  $7,381 and spent $5,810.23 so far. In 2020, $14,160 was spent by three candidates. 

This year's district school board races were uncontested, with the sole candidates not raising or spending any money. 

More voters engaged thanks to Clean Elections
The number of individuals making donations has increased, thanks to the qualifying contribution requirements. 1,260 five dollar qualifying contributions were made to the Clean Elections seven candidates. While individuals may have given to more than one candidate, this is still a remarkable comparison to the approximately 251 individuals who gave to the privately financed candidates.

What is more, all the qualifying contributions, by law, came from Portland voters. 

Maine Citizens for Clean Elections and the League of Women Voters of Maine began the campaign to establish clean elections in Portland in 2019. See the full timeline here