The Center for Competitive Politics, a Virginia-based group fighting limits on donations to political campaigns, is telling Maine offiicials to stop enforcing a law capping aggregate giving by wealthy donors.
In a letter to Republican Gov. Paul LePage, Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, and legislative leaders, CCP urged state officials to either change or not enforce a state law preventing individual donors from spending more than $25,000 on candidate committees during an election cycle. The current law does not apply to individual limits to campaigns, which vary depending on the office sought. But it does prevent wealthy individual donors from spending more than $25,000 during an election by giving to a several campaigns.
The U.S. Supreme Court in early April struck down the $123,200 aggregate limit in federal campaigns in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. The decision has raised questions about the legality of state aggregate limits. After the McCutcheon decision several states announced that they would either remove their laws on aggregate caps or stop enforcement.
David Keating, president of CCP, is urging Maine officials to do the same or face potential legal action in a lawsuit that the group says it will argue pro bono.
"CCP has provided pro bono representation in similar situations, and would strongly consider doing so here as well," the letter to state officials said. "Such legal action would cost the state money defending the case, and would distract the Attorney General’s office from other important legal work. Additionally, if the state chooses to defend the law in court, it is probable that the state will have to pay substantial legal fees to successful plaintiffs."
In a press statement, CCP says it has sent similar letters to 17 other states and the District of Columbia requesting changes to their campaign finance laws.
Jonathan Wayne, director of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, told Portland Press Herald in early April that his agency was reviewing potential legislation that would conform Maine law with the court decision. Wayne said Tuesday that the commission was consulting with the Office of Attorney General and that issue could be reviewed during the commission’s next meeting.
Wayne told the Press Herald in early April that he was unaware of any individual donor reaching the $25,000 aggregate limit over the past 11 years. In the past wealthy donors have given to political action committees and party committees, neither of which are subject to spending limits.
An analysis by the National Institute on Money in State Politics found that nine donors in two states, Arizona and Rhode Island, hit the aggregate limit in the 2012 election, representing a fraction of the 244,000 donors in the seven states with aggregate limit laws.
BJ McCollister, the program director for the Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, the group promoting campaign finance reform and supporting a state law that provides public funds for qualifying candidates, said CCP’s letter dovetailed with the group’s effort to rollback "common-sense campaign finance limits."
McCollister noted that the letter was sent 24 hours before U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, was set to hold a congressional hearing on adding transparency requirements to coincide with court decisions that have struck down donor limits.
"It seems fitting that an out-of-state group would send this letter just 24 hours before Senator King’s hearing ‘Dollars and Sense: How Undisclosed Money and Post-McCutcheon Campaign Finance Will Affect the 2014 Election and Beyond,’ a hearing that will focus on the urgent need to increase transparency and to enact other important campaign finance reforms, ” McCollister said. "Despite wrongheaded court rulings, Maine citizens are rolling up their sleeves and working to pass constitutional reforms that put voters, not out of state special interests, first."