Wednesday, April 23, 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.
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."
It's not every day that the ambassador of Liechtenstein -- her name is Claudia Fritsche -- writes a letter to the Maine Legislature to weigh in on a bill.
But it happened March 4, when Fritsche urged state lawmakers to vote down L.D. 1120, a bill that would prohibit multinational corporations from using so-called offshore tax havens to avoid paying taxes in Maine. Democrats in the House voted to approve the bill on Tuesday.
Lawmakers also received a letter from Jean-Louis Wolzfeld, Luxembourg's ambassador to the U.S., opposing the bill.
Both countries are among more than two dozens jurisdictions identified as tax havens in L.D. 1120. In their letters to the lawmakers, Fritsche and Wolzfeld explained why such a designation unfairly blacklisted the two countries and what the impact would be if the bill is enacted.
Reposting this story with some of the context that was cut in order to fit the story in the newspaper. Click here for for the abbreviated version. - S.M.
A last-minute amendment backed by the National Rifle Association threatens to derail a bipartisan bill to overhaul the state’s concealed-weapon permit law, in a move criticized as election-year sabotage.
The bill would create a central, confidential permitting system and allow Maine State Police to conduct criminal and mental health background checks. It was drafted during more than a year of meetings by interested groups, including law enforcement, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and the NRA.
On Thursday, the bill received early approval in the House, with an 82-54 vote that fell mostly along party lines. A majority of Republicans voted against the bill and instead backed a late amendment, supported by the NRA, that would defeat the purpose of the bill by allowing gun owners to carry a concealed weapon without a permit, a practice gun rights advocates refer to as “constitutional carry.”