AUGUSTA — A proposal to help voters more easily learn which out-of-state groups are bankrolling Maine political campaigns will go before the state ethics commission Thursday.

The proposal follows a high-priced 2016 campaign season that saw entities from outside Maine pour a record $14 million into state political campaigns, including those for ballot questions that legalized marijuana and raised the minimum wage.

Voters were left in the dark about who provided much of that money to the out-of-state groups that then funneled it to the Maine campaigns.

The proposal, suggested by commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne, would require any out-of-state group donating more than $100,000 in a year to a Maine-based political action committee to disclose its top five donors.

In a memo to the five-member commission, Wayne says his proposal reflects concerns by some residents who feel voters should know who is financing political campaigns in Maine.

“Our bill is intended to give members of the public a fighting chance to understand who these out-of-state groups are, by requiring them to file a one-time report with the commission during (or before) October of the election year,” Wayne wrote. “We have taken care to narrow the scope of who would be affected by the proposal and to keep the administrative work of filing the report within reasonable limits.”

Under current law, state campaigns and political action committees are required to disclose their donors, but often they are simply other PACs with anonymous donors of their own.

Wayne said his proposal would give voters more information on who is funding political advertising and other campaign activities.

If the commission, which includes two Democrats, two Republicans and one independent, agrees with Wayne, a bill would be brought to the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee for consideration in the upcoming legislative session, which starts Wednesday. The committee has jurisdiction over voting and campaign finance law in Maine.

Wayne’s memo also details the top 13 organizations who gave $100,000 or more to PACs in Maine this year.

Among those national groups were: Everytown For Gun Safety, which contributed $4.3 million toward the initiative to require federal background checks for private gun sales in Maine; the National Education Association, which gave $2.1 million to support a 3 percent state surtax on high-income households to help fund public schools; and the New Approach PAC, which contributed $2.2 million in support of legalizing recreational marijuana.

While the gun ballot question failed at the polls in November, the other two were adopted by voters, although a recount is underway on the marijuana question.

 


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