Following a crushing defeat of the York County casino initiative by voters last Tuesday, the state Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee voted last week to open an investigation into the state’s referendum process to see if it is being abused by special interests.

“I’m pleased that OPEGA will be taking a look at this,” said Rep. Jeff Pierce, R-Dresden.

Pierce, who sits on the committee, sent a letter to the committee’s investigative arm, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, requesting the probe last month amidst increased scrutiny of the York County casino backers. Pierce said that he didn’t believe the Legislature should single out one referendum campaign backed by deep pocketed special interests when it seemed many other groups had done the same thing in recent years.

“My thought was, why just look at this one referendum question when this may not be an isolated incident?” said Pierce. “With the increasing number of referendums being pushed on Maine voters by wealthy special interest groups, it seems to me the time has come to take a peek under the hood at the referendum process as a whole and make sure it still meets its original intent.”

According to OPEGA’s work plan, it will be investigating the original intent of the state’s referendum process and whether recent referendum campaigns are living up to that intent. It will also look for “potential opportunities for improved efficiency, transparency and accountability in the referendum process.”

The investigation is still in the planning stages, and OPEGA will return to the GOC in January for approval of the project’s direction.

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