By now, you’ve probably heard about Question 1 on Tuesday’s statewide ballot. It’s a measure to reduce the influence of big money in politics through increased disclosure, tougher penalties for violations of campaign ethics laws and a stronger system of public campaign financing.

What you may not have heard about, however, is the effect that passage of this initiative would have on a little-known artery through which money circulates into the body politic: the governor’s transition fund. (In the interest of full disclosure, and because I’m writing about campaign finance issues, I should note that the Maine People’s Alliance, for which I work, has endorsed a “yes” vote on Question 1. MPA has also long been a part of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, the organization that proposed the initiative.)

According to the all-knowing Google, of the hundreds of news stories over the past few months written about Question 1, only four mention this aspect of the referendum, and all of them in passing.

Let’s fix that omission right now.

New governors elected in Maine receive only $5,000 from the state to fund their operations during the period in between when they’re elected and when they officially take office. That’s a minuscule amount considering the work that needs to be done to vet and hire commissioners, set up a new governing apparatus and begin work on a budget and other legislative priorities.

To cover the remaining costs, new governors have asked for private contributions. To this point, who donates to that cause, how much they can give and what happens to any money left over have gone almost entirely unregulated.

During Gov. LePage’s transition in 2010 (back when he was still talking about government transparency), he released a list of contributors to his fund (although not the amounts they gave). The donors were almost all corporations and lobbyists, and almost all of them had business before the state.

These weren’t companies that were contributing, as some argue concerning some political contributions, simply because they supported LePage’s ideological background or policy positions. There was no reason to – he’d already won the election. They gave because they were seeking something in return.

Some of them got what they wanted. In retrospect, one name that stands out on the list is LogistiCare Solutions, LLC, a Georgia-based medical transportation company. At the time they gave, they had no business in Maine, but the LePage administration would later pay them tens of millions of dollars to provide non-emergency transportation to Medicaid patients, a service previously provided through contracts with local nonprofits.

The result has been hundreds of complaints about missed rides and poor service and, as we learned just last week, skyrocketing costs. The program is budgeted for $50 million in 2014-15, an increase of 12 percent over the previous fiscal year.

Another donor on the list is a company called Mallinckrodt. Again, they have no business in Maine, but as the former owner of the HoltraChem plant in Orrington, they have a vested interest in delaying and watering down the court-mandated cleanup of tons of mercury and other chemicals they’re responsible for dumping at the plant site and in the Penobscot River. Last year, the lobster fishery at the mouth of the Penobscot was closed down because of Mallinckrodt’s mercury contamination.

Nearly every corporation and lobbyist on the list has similar interests before the state, and it’s nearly impossible to know how their contributions may have affected policy. We can never say for certain, for instance, how much BP’s money may have influenced LePage’s deplorable record on climate change.

After the transition period was over, the money given by these corporate interests took on a new life. LePage’s team renamed the transition fund “Maine People Before Politics” and has been using those same dollars to run ads and robocalls praising the governor and attacking his enemies ever since.

Question 1 wouldn’t solve all of the problems involved with private financing of gubernatorial transitions, but it would shine some much-needed light into this dark crevice. The initiative would require incoming administrations to disclose the name, address and occupation of any donor giving more than $50 and would prevent lobbyists and their employers from giving once the legislative session has begun.

It would also require that any unused funds be given to the state or a registered charity rather than stocked away in a political slush fund. A bill that would have made similar changes was passed by the Legislature in 2013, but LePage vetoed it, claiming that it unfairly questioned the “integrity” of the governor-elect. His Republican allies in the Senate sustained his veto.

Mike Tipping is a political junkie who works for the Maine People’s Alliance. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @miketipping


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