GOULDSBORO — The Maine Legislature consists of 151 House members and 35 senators. Sixty-seven of the 186 legislators, or 36 percent, ran privately financed campaigns instead of running as Clean Election candidates. By political party, of the 67 members who spurned Clean Election financing, 48 (71 percent) are Republicans.

Why do Republican legislators tend not avail themselves of Clean Election financing?

The purpose behind Clean Elections is to minimize the influence of special interests in our representative democracy. Elected representatives, after all, are supposed to advance the common good rather than the narrow interests of corporations and political action committees. Using public money to advance the public’s best interests decreases the chances of private, self-promoting special interests to influence public policy.

If aspirants for a House seat opt to run as Clean Election candidates, they need to get 60 citizens to pay $5 apiece in order to qualify for $5,000 in state funds; Senate candidates need 175 $5 donations in order to get $20,000 for their race; and candidates for governor need 3,250 $5 donations in order to qualify for $1.8 million in campaign funds.

Certain Republican candidates apparently calculated that in order to win their race, more money was needed than what $5 donations and public funds would afford. House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport, for example, raised $7,867 for his last District 25 race and spent $7,059 to win. To get elected in District 37, proud alt-right legislator Larry Lockman of Amherst raised $12,783, including a $600 donation/loan from himself, and spent slightly over $13,000. District 30 Senate candidate Amy Volk of Scarborough raised over $60,000 and spent almost $52,000 to win her contest. In brief, all three Republicans spent more than what they would have been given to qualify as Clean Election candidates.

All three Republicans took contributions from PACs – in several cases the maximum permitted, $375, which, arguably, is not enough money to influence their voting behavior for public policy that might advance the PACs’ interests. An analysis of how they voted in the Legislature would be needed to make that case. But Volk, for instance, did record a $481.54 expense that her husband, Derek, incurred for getting her message onto Facebook.

Some Democrats also ran privately financed campaigns. Donna Bailey of Saco raised about $7,100 and spent $6,756, including a loan of $2,400 from herself, to prevail in District 14. One has to wonder if she wouldn’t also have won as a Clean Election candidate and in the process saved herself $2,400. In District 84, Charlotte Warren of Hallowell raised $9,092 but spent only $7,807.

And an enigma wrapped within a riddle is the campaign of Louie Luchini of Ellsworth in District 132. Luchini raised less than the $5,000 maximum awarded by Clean Elections – only $4,525 – and actually spent $200 less than what he raised. He received modest donations from two PACs – the Maine Brewers’ Guild and Retail Maine – but given his celebrity status locally, it makes no sense for him to have opted out of Clean Elections.

There is the principled argument that taxing the public coffers in order to mount an election campaign is simply wrong: unless, that is, you believe that as a wannabe public servant, there is nothing wrong in asking the public to help pay for your service. Our legislators, after all, are not paid well for their work on behalf of the common good (about $24,000 for a two-year term, plus an inadequate per diem for mileage, meals and tolls). Thus, the stipend at best is supplementary to a “real job.”

While all Maine legislators should be commended for devoting their time, and thus possibly losing career opportunities, in order to serve Maine’s citizens, all of us need to question the wisdom of the tendency by most Republican candidates to forgo running as Clean Election candidates. Clean Elections ensures that legislators owe no one but the electorate for their seat and thus will support policies that result in the greatest good for the greatest number.

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