Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Steve Mistler covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.
Gov. Paul LePage is known to send handwritten notes to his allies and his opponents. The missives sometimes surface in the mailboxes of state lawmakers.
Some of the notes are friendly. Some are not.
Oamshri Amarasingham, the public policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, recently received one of the latter notes. The governor was not happy that Amarasingham had criticized the governor's proposal to have a governmental agency fact-check campaign statements.
The proposal, L.D. 1834, was quickly dispatched by the Legislature amid concerns that the proposal would violate the First Amendment protection of free speech. Additionally, there was some uneasiness among lawmakers about making the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Elect Practices the arbiter of truth.
Whether you're a connoisseur or critic of televised political ads, it's about to get a lot easier to find out who's buying them and how much they paid.
Beginning July 1, television stations will have to post political ad buy information at a designated Federal Communications Commission website, according to an April 4 public notice sent from the FCC to television broadcasters. The FCC reminder follows action taken in 2012 that made it so network affiliates (NBC, ABC, FOX, CBS) in the country's top 50 media markets had to post their so-called "public file" on the FCC site to enable the public to view specific ad buys, run times and purchasers. The information provides an easier path for transparency. While the information was public before, stations were not required to send the information upon request. Viewing the documents required a trip to the station and request for the information.
The 2012 mandate excluded broadcasters outside of the top 50, meaning Maine televisions stations did things the old fashioned way during the presidential and congressional races. That changes on July 1, when all broadcasters, including those not affiliated with the major networks, have to begin sending their public file to the FCC.
Ready inspection of the public file is good news for journalists, too. In 2012, for example, a strange ad surfaced during the U.S. Senate race that talked up Democratic candidate Cynthia Dill's progressive credentials. The spot seemed to have been drafted through the Republican lens of what Democrats want -- she's aligned with Obama! Pro-labor! Tough on guns! -- but the connection would have been difficult to prove had it not been for the public file, which listed Michael Adams as the treasurer of Maine Freedom, the group that purchased the ad.
The Maine Republican Party convention will have some star power when it convenes later this month.
Rand Paul, a presumed 2016 presidential candidate, will address the convention on April 26 at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
Paul's visit is a win-win for the party and the Kentucky senator. For the party, his appearance marks another attempt to unite Republicans as they head into the legislative and gubernatorial election.
Until the past several months even the appearance of unity has been a struggle for Maine Republicans. The division was on full display during the 2012 state convention when activists supporting Paul's father, libertarian Ron Paul, took over the proceedings in an effort to get the candidate a speaking position at the national convention in Tampa.
Wednesday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission may require some changes to Maine's elections law.
That's the message from Jonathan Wayne, the executive director of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices. Wayne said his office is reviewing potential legislation that would conform Maine law with the court decision, which essentially struck down the aggregate limit an individual can give to candidates during an election.
The decision means that individual donors, presumably the most wealthy ones, have more ways to spend it during an election, potentially expanding their influence on candidate positions and the actions of elected officials. There's still a cap on individual donations to specific candidates, which is $5,200 in federal elections. What's gone now is the aggregate cap of $123,200 in federal law.
Maine currently has an aggregate cap of $25,000 for donations to candidate committees. That limit is likely unconstitutional now because of the McCutcheon decision. Wayne said the commission is trying to determine whether legislative action needs to be taken to ensure that the state law aligns with the court ruling.
For the past several weeks Democratic lawmakers have put up rigorous opposition to Gov. Paul LePage's slate of welfare reform proposals.
However, there's growing speculation that some Democrats are working on a compromise on at least one of the governor's proposals. That bill, L.D. 1822, could come up for a vote in the House Thursday. The proposal would prohibit the purchase of certain products, such as booze, tobacco and lottery tickets with electronic benefit transfer -- or EBT -- cards through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program.
Democrats have previously said that the law is likely costly and unenforceable, a conclusion that mirrors 2012 findings by the Government Accountability Office, which analyzed similar restrictions in other states. The problem is that EBT distributes cash benefits, the GAO found.
"With no controls on how or where individuals spend withdrawn cash, a recipient could withdraw money at an authorized location and use it at certain locations or for certain purchases restricted by some states."