A local state representative wants an investigation into Maine’s citizen referendum process to determine if it is operating within the original intent of the law.

Rep. Jeff Pierce’s inquiry follows concerns raised about a referendum that will be on the ballot this November to allow a casino in York County, likely in Old Orchard Beach.

Question 1 has been criticized for being backed largely by out-of-state donors who have attempted to remain anonymous.

In August, Pierce, a Dresden Republican, said the state Government Oversight Committee voted to investigate the initiative because the committee’s chairs didn’t like the way the referendum process was used.

Pierce questioned why the York County casino initiative was being singled out for having out-of-state backers.

“Is it a true citizens’ initiative if it’s initiated by groups from out of state, not grassroots Mainers?” said Pierce. “I don’t care what the subject is, it’s time we look at this.”

Last week, the Associated Press reported that Progress for Maine PAC spent more than $1.5 million for the pro-casino campaign. Under the referendum, Shawn Scott — who financed a successful campaign to bring a race track and casino to Bangor, and his associates — would be the only groups allowed to apply for the York County casino license.

The anti-casino campaign is also receiving an out-of-state boost with Bad Deal for Maine, getting almost $27,000 worth of polling services from the Kentucky-based group that owns the Oxford Casino, accord- ing to the AP.

For Pierce, this most recent example of out-of-state funding driving Maine’s referendum process represents a recent trend — not an anomaly. Pierce pointed to numerous past and upcoming examples of referendum campaigns being spearheaded by out-of-state groups.

“It seems like the last 10 years it’s been used as a tool, and it’s been $5 million to $10 million to get them on the ballot,” Pierce said.

Pierce wants the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability to determine whether the 1907 citizens’ referendum law is being used as intended. If not, he wants to know how they could fix it so that it can be used to accurately represent the people of Maine and not be hijacked by out-of-state interests.

“Let’s be honest, is it a citizen’s referendum when you pay signature gatherers up to $17 a signature by out-of-state people coming up with big checkbooks?” said Pierce. “Is the referendum process being abused?”

Pierce repeated a criticism frequently made by Gov. Paul LePage, which is that the signatures used to get referendum items on the ballot come disproportionately from the southern part of the state.

“It’s southern Maine telling northern Maine what to do,” said Pierce.

Ultimately, Pierce wants the Government Oversight Committee to address potential problems with the referendum process generally, and to not single out one campaign for what, he claims, many other campaigns are doing.

“When we like the question, the process might not bother you. When you hate the question, the process might bother you,” said Pierce.

The Government Oversight Committee will vote on whether to investigate the issue along Pierce’s inquiry at an upcoming meeting.

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