With insults and slurs that would impress most reality TV show producers, it’s important to remember that, despite the fiery rhetoric and stark contrasts seen on the debate stage and on the campaign trail, there is more that unites than divides us.

In fact, if you listen closely in this election cycle, you will hear recurring themes in the leading presidential campaigns that transcend the typical left-vs.-right divide.

People are angry.

People are frustrated with a political and economic system that leaves too many behind.

People want a government that either works in the interest of the American people or gets out of their way.

No one wants to see another four or eight years go by in which achieving the American Dream becomes more distant for future generations than for those who came before.

We’re fed up with an election system in which everyday people are ignored while wealthy special interests are courted and catered to by politicians.

Money in politics comes up in elections at all levels, and it is clear that our current campaign finance system has few defenders. And it’s not just the candidates. Recent polls show that an overwhelming number of people believe that when it comes to Congress, big money calls the shots, not everyday people.

Here in Maine, we’ve not only been talking about this issue, we’ve also done something about it. Last November, Maine people voted 55 percent to 45 percent to lessen the influence of special interest money on our political process by passing the Clean Elections Initiative. This was an effort by Maine people – Republicans, Democrats, Greens and independents – who would not stand idly by as the U.S. Supreme Court and opponents near and far worked to erode our campaign finance system and our democracy.

Our new law is making a difference. More than 70 percent of registered candidates for Maine House and Senate seats are skipping the private money chase and using Clean Elections to finance their races this year. They are out in neighborhoods across Maine, talking and listening to voters about the issues that matter instead of courting special interest money.

We are reaping the benefits of the newly strengthened law, but our fight is far from over.

Since Clean Elections first became law in the late 1990s, successive governors and legislators developed a bad habit – taking money out of the Clean Elections fund to use for other state programs with a promise to return it in time for the next election. But over the years, much more has been taken out than has been returned.

This mismanagement means that every election cycle is clouded by worry that funds will run out before Election Day. While the November initiative improved the situation, it did not take into account the most recent raid of $1.7 million, which occurred last year just as voters were putting their signatures on petitions to strengthen the law.

Unless this most recent transfer is returned, the Clean Elections fund could run dry in 2016 or 2018. What an insult to the majority of Maine voters who just a few months ago reaffirmed their mandate for Maine’s first-in-the-nation Clean Elections Act.

Fortunately, this situation has a simple solution, and that is to divert just a small fraction of the current $70 million revenue surplus and return it to the Clean Elections fund.

Voters spoke, and they must be heard. We want a robust Clean Elections system that allows candidates in all parties from across the state to run for office without strings attached to big donors. We want some distance between private money and those who hold our highest state offices. We want transparency and accountability, and a good place to start would be to undo last year’s irresponsible budget decision by returning money owed to the Clean Elections fund.

Reducing the influence of special interest money in our elections and government, strengthening democracy, making sure the voices of voters are heard – these are not the issues that Americans are fighting over. These are the things we are fighting for. These are the things that unite us.

I call upon every Maine lawmaker to honor the will of Maine voters by fully funding Clean Elections.


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