AUGUSTA – The head of the state ethics commission presented lawmakers this week with two options for fixing Maine’s Clean Election system, prompting the scheduling of a public hearing in October.

Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, gave members of the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee a report that details the system as it now operates and ways to make it comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June.

“For a predictable and orderly election process in 2012, it would be helpful to candidates to know what level of funding would be available under this program,” he said in an interview Thursday.

Last month, the ethics commission agreed to forward two options to lawmakers so the program can continue despite the court ruling that struck down the use of matching funds.

The justices 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 Clean Election system, which was approved by voters in 1996 and first used in legislative elections in 2000. About 80 percent of legislative candidates have used the program in recent years, according to the report. Of those, about half have qualified for matching funds.

The first option for change would provide a fixed amount to all participating House and Senate candidates. In the House, the maximum would be $7,716 and in the Senate, it would be $33,617.

The second option would let candidates who are being outspent collect additional $5 qualifying contributions to trigger more state funding. That would give House candidates as much as $11,500 and those running for Senate as much as $55,000.

Both options would cost about the same as the current system, roughly $3 million per election, Wayne said.

Lawmakers who heard Wayne’s report on the options said they haven’t decided whether they prefer one or the other, or whether they will work to come up with another option.

Nichi Farnham, R-Bangor, Senate chair of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, said she and others are looking forward to getting input from the public on Oct. 18.

“I’m going to have to hear more on both” plans, she said. “I like keeping an open mind.”

While the report did not address changes to the program for gubernatorial candidates, Farnham said the committee still has a bill before it to eliminate those funds. The more immediate concern is the 2012 legislative elections, which will be followed by the governor’s race in 2014.

Rep. Mike Carey, D-Lewiston, said the committee isn’t bound to consider only the two recommendations from the ethics commission.

He has run for office using public funds, and has run as a privately financed candidate. The public system allows candidates to forgo fundraising calls and gives them more time to campaign door-to-door, he said, “and there’s a real benefit to that.”

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

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