December 2, 2012

Political fundraising: 'Enough is enough'

The Citizens United ruling is bypassing citizens. Let's take on the PACs and keep Maine elections clean.

By SEVERIN BELIVEAU

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Staff Photo Illustration/Michael Fisher

Over my career, I have raised a fair amount of money for political candidates. Within limits, private fundraising is a healthy thing. It gets candidates out to meet with voters and hear their concerns. But there is a tipping point beyond which private fundraising becomes counterproductive. The tipping point is reached when political parties set up boiler rooms with telephones for candidates to make calls to strangers asking for donations. The tipping point is reached when money from outside Maine, from people who may have never visited here, and certainly never met any candidates, overruns money raised from local sources.

As the Portland Press Herald put it in a late October editorial, "Now we have a lot of speech, but not much of it is free." I remember the editorial well. On the day I was reading it, I received another three invitations to contribute to political action committees.

As a longtime political insider, I am an unlikely advocate for increased Clean Election funding and tighter restrictions on private money in politics. But I don't want Maine politics to go the way of Washington. I don't want money and partisanship to swamp our State House. Our tradition of independent citizen legislators must continue.

But if it is to continue, we need to strengthen our Clean Election laws for the future. Here's a first step: Outlaw the ability of publicly funded candidates to create privately funded political action committees. I am urging the leadership of both political parties in the Legislature to take this essential step. Help Maine voters to be able to keep believing in the integrity of our political system.

Severin Beliveau is an Augusta attorney and a founding partner of Preti, Flaherty, Beliveau and Pachios, LLP. He is a former state legislator, gubernatorial candidate and Maine Democratic Party chair.

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