Maine’s ‘Clean Elections’ Program in Jeopardy

A 'Technical Error' Could End Flow of Public Funds to Maine Candidates on July 1.

Maine’s trailblazing “Clean Elections” program, which allows candidates for the legislature and statewide offices to run without relying on large-dollar donors, is in danger of being strangled by hostile state lawmakers.

The Bangor Daily News and other media outlets report today that a “technical error” in the state’s two-year budget bill could leave administrators of the Clean Elections Fund unable to disperse funds to candidates after July 1. One candidate for governor and 220 candidates for the legislature are relying on the fund to help pay for their campaigns, according to the Associated Press.

The Clean Elections Program works by providing candidates with matching funds and grants of public money if they limit their campaign fundraising to small dollar gifts from individuals. It and similar programs in Connecticut, Arizona and dozens of localities across the country have allowed hundreds of people who lack the wealth and connections traditionally required to run a successful campaign to compete and win public office.

The Maine program’s survival appears to hinge on whether House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Democrat, and Republican Leader Ken Fredette can cut a deal to repair the error. “I’m having a hard time getting any answer (from Fredette) other than ‘we do want clean elections to run out of money,’” Gideon told the newspaper. “This is really going back on negotiations and an agreement we made last year and that’s really tough to swallow.”

The GOP leader acknowledged that “Many people in the House Republican caucus are not particularly supportive of clean elections.”

Forty Republican candidates for Maine’s House of Representatives, nearly one-third of those running this year, and one-half of the GOP’s Senate candidates are participating in the Clean Elections Program, the Daily News said. The program is more popular among Democrats; 75 percent of those running for the House and 90 percent of Democratic Senate candidates are using it.

The legislators are working to wrap-up a three-day special session to resolve the budget impasse.