AUGUSTA – A proposal to ask voters whether they want to repeal Maine’s Clean Election law received a cool response Friday from members of a legislative committee, most of whom received public funds on the campaign trail last year.

The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee is considering a proposal to put a measure on the ballot this November that would repeal the public-financing elections law and use the money to boost education funding instead.

But critics told lawmakers that it appears to simply be an effort to draw votes away from a referendum that has already qualified for the ballot, which seeks to strengthen the Clean Election law by allowing publicly financed candidates to collect more cash and better compete with those who are bankrolled by private dollars.

“What this really is is an attempt to undermine the initiative,” said Robert Howe, a lobbyist for Maine Citizens for Clean Elections.

Republican Sen. Eric Brakey, who introduced the measure, said if Maine voters are going to be asked if they want to expand the law, they should also have the option to repeal it.

He says he doesn’t believe taxpayer dollars should be spent on things like political yard signs and mailers while the state has failed for years to pay 55 percent of costs of K-12 education, as mandated by law.

“I think the education of our kids is more important than campaign yard signs,” he said.

No one testified in support of the measure on Friday. But Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration has also criticized the program in the past, calling it “welfare for politicians.”

The Clean Election program used to be extremely popular, with more than 80 percent of candidates using public funds in 2008. But a Supreme Court decision weakened the law by striking down a provision that allowed candidates to get more cash when they’re being outspent. Last year, just 50 percent of candidates were publicly financed.

Several of those lawmakers on the committee disagreed with Brakey’s assessment that the system has failed to lessen the influence of special interest money in politics, as promised. They also said that if residents really want to repeal the law, they can use the citizen initiative process and collect signatures to get it on the ballot, like the group that’s seeking to strengthen it did.

Democratic Sen. John Patrick of Rumford said the law has benefited hundreds of candidates, he included, who would never have been able to seek office without the support of public funds.

“I am here today as a state senator, representing 37,000 people because of the Maine Clean Election Act,” he said.