November 13, 2012

Political spending triggers backlash for Mainers

Concern about the influence of anonymous contributors has some pushing for legal remedies that others oppose.

By John Richardson jrichardson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Staff Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette: Anthony Corrado, well known expert on the subject of campaign finance in his office at Colby College in Waterville Tuesday, July 24, 2012.

And, while most Senate races go on for a year, the Maine race only began in February when Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, made her surprise retirement announcement.

"It was a very atypical race," Corrado said. "In a more typical Senate race, there would have been far more (money)."

Bossie said Maine Citizens for Clean Elections supports state and federal legislation to require more disclosure so voters know where all the money is coming from. But, he said, the amount of money is such a fundamental threat to democracy that it is time to change the Constitution so the donations and spending can be restricted.

"If you've got someone dumping millions of dollars into a campaign and you know about it, you still have to ask if (elected officials) represent them or the constituents," Bossie said.

Bossie said any constitutional amendment must restore the ability of Congress and the states to regulate political fundraising and spending.

Other groups are involved in similar grassroots efforts around the country. Nine states have formally expressed legislative support for an amendment, Bossie said, and he hopes Maine will be the 10th. So far, 23 cities and towns in Maine have passed resolutions supporting the effort, including Portland, Bangor, Waterville and Scarborough, Bossie said.

Lance Dutson, a Republican political strategist who most recently managed Charlie Summers' Senate campaign, said the idea of allowing the government to narrow the definition of free speech is dangerous.

"When you start talking about a flaw in the First Amendment of the Constiution, you are on pretty thin ice," Dutson said. "The subjectivity of whoever is in charge of being able to decide what is political speech and what isn't is a perilous place to be."

Dutson also argues that the money, and the advertisements it pays for, are not a threat to democracy.

"The point that needs to be made is that money may be speech, but it's not a vote," he said. "Unless you believe there is an innate inability of human beings to exercise their will because of the dominance of paid media, a vote is a vote."

Corrado, the Colby professor, has been tracking and studying the explosion of secretive political spending around the country.

He said the idea of a constitutional amendment is clearly mobilizing support for some kind of reform, but it does not seem realistic.

"There are widespread differences in terms of what an amendment would look like and the hurdles for getting an amendment are especially high," he said.

For example, a narrow amendment that says corporations do not have the same free speech rights as people would not have affected most of the money that flowed into the 2012 elections from wealthy individuals, super PACs and non-profits. And drafting a broader amendment could have unintended consequences for free speech rights, he said.

Corrado said the most achievable reform would be a new law requiring more transparency.

"I think the first step is that there has to be progress made on disclosure and informing the public about the sources of funding," he said.

In the meantime, Corrado said, it's not likely that the cash will stop flowing.

"We're in a pattern now where there is a battle for partisan control, whether you are looking at Congress or you are looking at the state Legislature," he said. "Those battles are going to be very expensive."

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

jrichardson@pressherald.com

 

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