A Maine Superior Court judge has ordered Republican Gov. Paul LePage to release about $1.4 million in campaign funds for candidates running under the state’s clean elections law.

Gov. Paul LePage has refused to sign an order releasing campaign funds left unused in the 2016 election. He had signed three similar orders in the past. Associated Press/Robert F. Bukaty

The order Thursday by Justice William Stokes would provide public funding for the campaigns of about 174 candidates for legislative seats and one candidate running for governor.

Under Stokes’ order, LePage has three days to release the funds so they can be distributed by the state’s Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, which oversees the Maine Clean Election Act.

“The implications of this case go beyond Clean Elections, and touch on the power of the executive and rule of law,” said attorney John Brautigam, who brought the suit. The plaintiffs include Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, candidates and Maine voters who made contributions to qualify candidates for clean election funding.

In a hearing last week, another lawyer for Maine Citizens for Clean Elections told Stokes that only about $100,000 of the funds would go to candidates in LePage’s Republican Party, while close to 10 times that number is owed to Democratic and unenrolled candidates.

Linda Sanborn, a former Democratic House member from Gorham who is running as a clean elections candidate for Senate District 30, said last week she had no doubt LePage was trying to rig the system in favor of Republican candidates.

Stokes wrote Thursday that the three-day deadline for LePage to act “is necessary and proper in this case because the candidate-Plaintiffs are involved in campaigns for election and time is of the essence . . . Failure to make the distributions as required by law and by this Court’s order could, over time, frustrate the very purpose” of the Clean Election Act.

During hearings last week, Stokes said he expected the LePage administration to appeal his decision.

“The Administration is studying the decision and considering options,” LePage press secretary Julie Rabinowitz said Thursday in a statement.

Stokes’ ruling does not affect an additional $4.8 million in clean elections funding tied up in a partisan dispute in the Maine House of Representatives. The Legislature is in recess from a special session called to, among other things, fix a typo in the state budget law that has prevented the release of those funds.

Maine Political Report



House Republicans, largely opposed to the publicly financed election system, have withheld the votes needed to fix the error and allow the ethics commission to distribute those funds as well.

The candidate with the most at stake is independent state Treasurer Terry Hayes, who is running for governor. Hayes is eligible for an additional $259,000 in funding, based on $5 qualifying contributions by citizen donors.

“Maine people shouldn’t have to sue their public officials to get them to do their jobs,” Hayes said Thursday.

The lawsuit was filed against LePage when he refused to sign a routine financial order allowing the ethics commission to use money left over from the 2016 election for candidates who are eligible for additional funds in 2018. LePage has signed similar orders three times in the past.

“We urge the administration to release the funds immediately now that the court has ruled,” said Anna Kellar, executive director for Maine Citizens for Clean Elections. “If the administration still resists, we will be there to fight every step of the way, defending our democracy from a governor who is increasingly not interested in following the will of Maine people.”

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

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