AUGUSTA — The state commission that oversees Maine Clean Election Act funding voted unanimously Wednesday to dole out only about a third of the campaign cash that candidates should be receiving under the program.

The 4-0 vote came after the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices learned that Republican Gov. Paul LePage has twice refused to sign financial orders that would authorize the commission to use revenue left over from 2014 in order to provide full funding to about 80 Clean Election candidates.

Those candidates have qualified for about $1.4 million to finance their campaigns for the Legislature or governor. But the commission has been alloted only $400,000 to distribute because of a typographic error in a budget bill last year. The Legislature has been unable to break a partisan gridlock and fix the error.

Commissioners and others said a lawsuit is likely if the Legislature cannot reach a compromise on funding the system.

William Lee, a commissioner and attorney from Waterville, said Clean Election candidates could easily argue that the state was breaking its contract by not providing the money they were eligible for. Except for small qualifying contributions, Clean Election candidates are not allowed to raise money privately.

Jonathan Wayne, the commission’s executive director, said one legislative leader has suggested to him that a lawsuit was likely. Wayne said he also recently received a Freedom of Access Act request for his communications with LePage’s office, which could also be an indication that parties were preparing for a lawsuit.

As part of Wednesday’s decision, the commission agreed to apportion funding based on the number of private, $5 qualifying contributions that a Clean Election candidate has collected. That will put candidates who have collected the maximum amount of qualifying $5 donations at an advantage over those who have not.

Maine Political Report



Affected most by the situation is state Treasurer Terry Hayes, an independent candidate for governor. She is likely eligible for an additional $175,000 in funds based on qualifying contributions she has turned in, and could be eligible for up to seven additional payments of $175,000 for a total of $1.4 million – were she to turn in another 12,800 qualifying contributions. Under the commission’s apportionment, she would receive $49,000 in her next disbursement.

Hayes blasted the Legislature and LePage for using a typographical error to try to dismantle a law that voters twice endorsed at the polls, and she framed her criticism as a campaign message.

“We are sick and tired of the partisan fighting and broken promises,” Hayes said. “Maine needs a no-nonsense, non-partisan governor who can work with Republicans and Democrats to solve problems.”

In the state Senate District 11 race in Waldo County, incumbent Democratic Rep. Erin Herbig and her Republican challenger, former state Rep. Jayne Giles, are both running as Clean Election candidates. But Herbig has collected the maximum amount of qualifying contributions while Giles has collected fewer.

Under a fully funded system, Herbig would be eligible for $40,600 and Giles would be eligible for $10,150. Using the formula applied by the commission Wednesday, Herbig will get $11,200 and Giles will get just $2,800.

Giles expressed frustration and said it’s unfortunate that the issue has become politicized.

“If I had known for a second this was going to be this kind of a problem, I would have just raised my money traditionally,” she said. “This to me has gone beyond Democrat versus Republican. This to me is about legislators being fair to other legislators and wanting to have the best open elections. That’s what Clean Election was about – it was about keeping out the big money. It wasn’t about one party over another and, really, I’m just disappointed.”

Candidates have until Oct. 15 to turn in additional qualifying contributions, and some have been pursuing different strategies for collecting those $5 contributions, said Shawn Roderick, chief of staff for Senate Republicans.

He said if Republican Clean Election candidates had seen the shortfall coming, they would have rushed to collect the maximum qualifying contributions early or would have simply decided to run as traditionally financed candidates.

About 200 candidates are running in the Clean Election system, and 80 percent of them are Democrats.

Although some Republicans have supported the Maine Clean Election Act, which was passed by voters 20 years ago and upgraded in 2015 to include larger funding amounts for candidates using the system, they have mostly opposed it.

Commissioner Richard Nass, a Republican from Acton, said the typographical error was viewed by many Republicans as an opportunity to hobble the program. “Now you’ve got a confluence of stuff that gives a few people an opportunity to diminish the program. It’s a political situation,” he said.

Clean Election candidates who are running against traditionally financed candidates will also be at a disadvantage. Under current law, Clean Election candidates would be allowed to collect private donations up to the amount of public funds they would have been eligible for if there are insufficient funds available.

But commissioners noted that from a legal point of view, insufficient funds are not the problem because the Clean Election account has a $5 million balance. What is lacking – as a result of the legislative typographical error – is the authority to allocate that money to Clean Election candidates.

The Legislature recessed late Tuesday night after being unable to broker a compromise. Lawmakers are expected to return July 9, but it’s unclear whether they’ll be able to settle their differences on the issue.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

[email protected]

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