AUGUSTA – Efforts to patch a hole in Maine’s public campaign-financing law failed Thursday as the state Senate voted to remove the “matching fund” provision from the law. The bill faces further House and Senate votes.

After a debate that lasted more than two hours, senators rejected two proposals aimed at making up for the elimination of matching funds, a key component of Maine’s Clean Election Act. Publicly funded candidates receive the extra money when their privately funded opponents receive additional funding.

Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court declared illegal the matching-fund provision in Arizona’s public financing law, which is similar to Maine’s.

With the elimination of matching funds, “we are left with a shell of the former Clean Election Act,” said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta. He is the author of one of the amendments, which would have increased distributions to qualifying candidates and allowed them to collect more private money at the start.

Sen. Philip Bartlett II, D-Gorham, said that proposal would bring too much private money into legislative campaigns.

A second proposal, also rejected, would have allowed supplemental distributions in contested races.

Maine’s Clean Election Act, authorized by voters in 1996, provides public campaign funds to candidates in gubernatorial and legislative races who qualify by collecting minimum numbers of $5 contributions from the public. The system has proven to be popular with legislative candidates; nearly 80 percent got public funds for the 2010 elections.

Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, which supports the public financing system, said the Senate’s action substantially weakens the law “at a time when people are more concerned than ever about the corrupting role that money plays in our elections and our government.”

Sen. Nichi Farnham, R-Bangor, praised the Senate for preserving all portions of the Clean Election Act that weren’t affected by the Supreme Court decision. Democrats called the Senate action a “do-nothing option gutting Maine’s clean election system.”