AUGUSTA – Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to zero-fund public financing of state candidates in 2014 drew broad opposition from supporters of Maine’s Clean Election law on Wednesday.

Groups defending the citizen-initiated system argued that the governor’s proposal would further endanger a program designed to give legislative and gubernatorial candidates a fighting chance against moneyed interests.

LePage’s two-year budget proposal contains a provision that would eliminate $2 million in funding for the program in each of the next two fiscal years, beginning July 1, 2013.

The removal of $4 million would coincide with the next statewide election.

The administration, which has often described the program as “welfare for politicians,” argued that the state has other funding priorities.

Supporters of the program argued Wednesday that the governor’s budget would further weaken a law that has been dealt significant blows over the past two years.

Ann Luther, a volunteer with the League of Women Voters of Maine and a longtime supporter of the Clean Election law, told members of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee Wednesday that election laws already skew toward the interests of wealthy donors.

The result, Luther said, was public policy that represents a “small minority of our citizens, the donor class, leaving everyone else behind.”

The argument was repeated Wednesday by several advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and Maine Citizens for Clean Elections.

Andrew Bossie, with Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, said LePage aimed “to gut” the program.

Voters approved the Maine Clean Election Act in 1996, making Maine the first state to adopt public campaign financing. Legislative and gubernatorial candidates qualify for public funding by collecting a set number of small donations.

Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, told lawmakers Wednesday that without additional funding in the next budget, there’s only enough money to fund one gubernatorial candidate in 2014. Wayne said there was $400,000 for the primary election and $600,000 for the general election.

Wayne said the level of funding was unlikely to attract “serious” gubernatorial candidates in 2014.

In 2011, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill that doubled the individual, private campaign contribution limit for gubernatorial candidates, from $750 to $1,500.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

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On Twitter: @stevemistler

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