Today’s a big day for all things related to public funding of elections.

The Legislature’s Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs will hold hearings on eight campaign finance bills, including one that would repeal the Maine Clean Election Act.

Also today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in McComish v. Bennett, a case that could overturn Arizona’s system for providing matching funds to candidates. Of all the states, Arizona’s system is most similar to the one in Maine.

Maine’s Clean Election program gives legislative and gubernatorial candidates the option of using public money for their campaigns, rather than money raised from private sources.

It appears that the law will survive as it applies to legislative races. After all, most lawmakers in both parties ran as Clean Election candidates.

However, there appears to be momentum to change the law as it applies to gubernatorial races. Critics argue that the law has had little impact at the top of the ticket. Also, the law does not apply to political action committees, which play a huge role in gubernatorial races.

Of the $7.4 million in public money spent by gubernatorial candidates in the past three election cycles, candidates who won less than 20 percent of the vote used 70 percent of the money.

In fact, no publicly funded candidate for governor has ever taken more than 30 percent of the vote.

SIGN MADE IN ALABAMA

After Gov. Paul LePage installed an “Open for Business” sign on Interstate 95 in Kittery, some people wondered if the sign was installed on the right border. After all, a business in Alabama manufactured the sign.

Cynthia Rosen, the Knox County tea party activist who led a fundraising effort to buy the sign, said she initially sought to give the work to a Maine business but was unable to find one that could meet Maine Department of Transportation specifications.

So she settled on Rice Signs of Auburn, Ala., which makes signs for highway departments around the nation.

Rosen, who was the Knox County campaign coordinator for LePage, said she and her husband, John Stewart, raised the money for the 8- by 4-foot sign, which cost $1,376.73, including shipping.

The couple has $310 left over, which they plan to use to reimburse the state for installation costs.

Rosen said there may be a Maine company that can manufacture a highway sign, but she had to work quickly to get the sign ready for LePage’s inaugural events.

“We couldn’t locate a company in the state, and time was ticking,” she said.

She and Stewart decided more than a year ago to raise money for the sign after hearing LePage say at a forum that he would erect such a sign in Kittery if elected.

She said the sign is an important symbol for the changes that LePage plans to bring to state government.

“It just seemed like a tangible expression of what the change might mean,” she said.

PANEL PONDERS MAKING EXCEPTION

The state ethics commission will consider an unusual situation Thursday involving a former ethics commission staffer and a former lawmaker.

A few days before the November election, Rep. Patricia Jones, D-Mount Vernon, asked her son to fly to Maine from Chicago to help her campaign. Jones, an incumbent, was in a tough race with Republican Dennis Keschl, who ultimately defeated her in her re-election bid.

After the election, Jones called the ethics commission staff to see if it would be OK to use Clean Election money to reimburse herself for the $395.80 airline ticket. She was told it was permissible, so she used the funding and reported it to the commission as an expenditure.

However, as it turns out, Jones was given bad advice by a former staffer.

It does not fit within the guidelines of a “campaign-related expenditure,” ethics commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne has decided.

“We regard the purchase of airfare as unnecessary and very rare for a legislative campaign,” he wrote in a memo. “We are unaware of another instance of a legislative candidate paying for airfare since candidates’ expenditures were recorded in a database in 2002.”

Wayne is asking the five-member ethics panel to decide whether Jones should reimburse the state for the money, even though one of his staffers gave her bad advice.

“The commission staff regrets that a former employee erroneously advised Ms. Jones after the general election that she could use MCEA funds to reimburse herself,” Wayne wrote. “We accept that there could be grounds for making an exception in this instance.”

The commission will take up the matter, along with other business, at 9 a.m. Thursday.

ROOMS OFFER FOOD FOR THOUGHT

LePage called in to host Howie Carr’s talk radio show on WRKO last week on the same day the news broke that he was ordering a pro-labor mural removed from the state Department of Labor.

In addition, he wants conference rooms named after state and national labor leaders to be renamed. Carr suggested that a room could be named after him.

“Governor, if you need the name of a Maine native that used to belong to a union, if you’re looking for candidates, you can name one of those rooms after me,” Carr said. “I’d be glad to take the Cesar Chavez room as my own.”

Later, the men joked about other possible room names.

“How about some kind of food Maine is famous for, like a batter-dipped fried clam room,” Carr said.

LePage responded: “The clam room, the lobster, blueberry, the cranberry.”

“We’re having this big battle now on the treat and dessert, maybe we can give them each a room,” LePage said.

KNOW ANY BAD ROADS?

The Maine Better Transportation Association is looking for nominations for the 2011 “Worst Road in Maine” contest.

The winner will receive a gift certificate for $250 toward a car repair. According to the MBTA, that’s how much extra the average Mainer pays every year for car repairs due to rough roads.

Contest rules and entry forms are available at www.FixMaineRoads.org.

 

MaineToday Media State House staff writers Tom Bell and Susan M. Cover contributed to this report.