What is "Clean Elections" All About?

Bangor Daily News
James Annis

bangor daily news

Lately there's been much said in various newspapers about Maine's Clean Election or publicly financed elections program. Much of it has been misleading. I think it's about time someone set the record straight and offered some information as well as some history about the program.

In 1996, the people of Maine enacted, by popular vote, the Clean Election program. It was an attempt to reduce the role of money in Maine's campaigns, to encourage new people to run for office and level the playing field among candidates. The Clean Election program was initiated in the 2000 election year. Many very good and well-qualified candidates would not have run for office had it not been for the Clean Election program.

In election year 2000, the initial year of the program, 33 percent of the candidates for general election participated in the program. This year, election year 2006, 81 percent of the candidates for general election are Clean Election candidates. And they are from all parties. The House of Representatives is fielding 248 out of 312 as Clean Election candidates for office. The Senate is fielding 66 out of 76 as Clean Election candidates.

And, of course, there are three out of the five gubernatorial candidates using the program.

To qualify for the program, a potential candidate must collect what is called qualifying contributions. A House candidate must collect 50 $5 checks or money orders from registered voting constituents in his or her district. A Senate candidate must collect 150 $5 checks or money orders and a Gubernatorial candidate must collect 2,500 $5 checks or money orders. For House and Senate candidates, the checks must be collected during the period from Jan. 1 to April 15 of the election year. A gubernatorial candidate has from Nov. 1 of the pre-election year until April 15 of the election year to collect qualifying contributions. Candidates who are not enrolled in a party may collect $5 qualifying contributions from Jan. 1 until June 2 of the election year. Qualifying contributions show intent by the candidate.

A Senate candidate can receive $1,927 for a primary with no opponent and $20,082 for the general election with an opponent for a total of $22,009 in state funding. A House candidate can receive $512 for a primary with no opponent and $4,362 for the general election, with an opponent, for a total of $4,874. A gubernatorial candidate can receive $200,000 for a primary and $400,000 for the general election for a total of $600,000.

Money collected by candidates from constituents before they start collecting their qualifying contributions is called "seed money." A candidate for the House may receive from constituents $500. A senatorial candidate may receive $1,500 in seed money and a gubernatorial candidate may receive $50,000 in seed money.

In the event a privately financed candidate is opposed by a Clean Election candidate and the privately financed candidate spends more on his or her campaign than what was allocated to the Clean Election candidate initially then, what is called "matching funds" for the Clean Election candidate kicks in. A Clean Election House candidate may receive up to a maximum of $8,724, added to his or her general election funding, in matching funds for a total of $13,086.

A Senate candidate may receive up to a maximum of $40,164 for a total of $60,246 and a gubernatorial candidate could receive up to a maximum of $800,000 for a total of $1.2 million. There are no matching funds from the Clean Election program for Clean Election candidates if their opponent, who is privately financed, spends more than they are allocated through maximum funding.

Funding for the Clean Election program comes from several sources; $2 million is transferred from the general fund each year, $250,000 comes from a taxpayer's check-off on their tax return every June 30, $125,000 comes from qualifying contributions in April of the election year and $15,000 is generated from the fund's interest. Of course, the fund builds every year according to the demands made on it. During the 2004 election year $2,765,523 was spent by the state on Clean Elections.

The Clean Election program performs many functions, such as those listed previously, but more important, it takes the hands of the candidate out of the pockets of the special-interest groups. Clean Election candidates have no obligations, but to those constituents he or she represents. Currently, Colorado is actively pursuing the program if only in reaction to legislative members who are selling their favors. Maine's Clean Election program strongly prohibits this activity and will prosecute any candidate guilty of such actions. Once a candidate has been proclaimed a Clean Election candidate, he or she may receive no other personal funding other than what he or she receives from the state.

When you stop to think about the rules governing the Clean Election program, and they are really strict, it comes to mind that the vast majority of those using the program are beyond reproach. They follow the rules of ethics, they break no laws and they campaign with the trust of the people of Maine. What more could you ask of a candidate?

It's a great program and it's working.

Rep. Jim Annis, of Dover-Foxcroft, is a Republican representing District 26.