AUGUSTA – Maine’s ethics commission considered two options Thursday for replacing the Clean Election Act’s system for matching funds, which has been declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

State lawmakers asked the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices to recommend how the state can change the public campaign financing system so it complies with the court ruling.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that matching money given to publicly financed candidates to help them keep pace with privately financed candidates reduces the free speech rights of privately financed candidates.

As a result, Maine lawmakers must change the way the state runs the Clean Election system, which was approved by voters in 1996 and first used in legislative elections in 2000. Ethics commission members hesitated to endorse a solution Thursday, asking Executive Director Jonathan Wayne to prepare a draft report for consideration next month.

He proposed two options. The first would set up a system in which candidates get a fixed amount of money once they qualify for the program. For House candidates, that would be $6,216 for the general election. For Senate candidates, it would be $28,617.

Alison Smith, co-president of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, said fixed amounts would make Clean Election candidates “sitting ducks” because opponents would know from the outset how much those candidates have to spend.

Her group preferred the second option, which would allow candidates who need more money to gather additional $5 qualifying contributions to earn more state funding.

For House candidates, there would be initial general election funding of $5,000, which could be increased by $5,000 if a candidate collected more qualifying contributions. For Senate candidates, the initial general election funding would be $25,000, with the possibility of an additional $25,000.

“The biggest plus is that it would allow more resources to flow into races when they are needed,” Smith said.

Maine voters supported the creation of public campaign financing to minimize the influence of political contributions in state elections, according to a memo from Wayne. It was hoped that the system would give candidates more time to meet with voters because they wouldn’t have to spend time raising money. The system also was designed to help new candidates run for office, he wrote.

“Over the past six election cycles, the MCEA program has made a significant impact in accomplishing these goals,” he wrote. “The program can continue to achieve these goals only if candidates opt into the program.”

Also Thursday, the commission voted to impose a $300 fine on Patrick McGowan, a Democrat who used Clean Election money in last year’s race for governor. The campaign disclosed to the commission two errors on its campaign finance reports that represented a “teeny, teeny fraction” of the total money spent by the campaign, Wayne said.

Also, the commission fined Rep. Howard McFadden, R-Dennysville, $100 for keeping some personal money in the same bank account as his state campaign funds.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

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