This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Citizens United ruling. This infamous Supreme Court case effectively lets big corporations spend unlimited amounts of money on campaigns in the hopes of electing politicians and pushing policies that benefit them. It’s pay-to-play politics at its worst. But in Maine, we aren’t waiting for Citizens United to be overturned; we’re taking matters into our own hands. Maine is taking action now.

As chair of the Government Oversight Committee, co-chair of the Democracy Reform Caucus and a member of the Senate Ethics Committee, I’ve long fought for common-sense fixes to a broken political system.

Specifically, my focus has been on the amount of undue influence lobbyists and their money have on public policy decisions, the shady use of political action committees, or PACs, and the revolving door of former lawmakers becoming lobbyists. Last year, I introduced a three-part ethics reform package that passed through the Legislature and has now become law.

The first bill bans lobbyist contributions to sitting legislators and legislative candidates, and out-of-state lobbyist contributions to the governor and gubernatorial candidates. Lobbyists represent clients who want legislation passed or defeated to benefit themselves rather than society has a whole. These lobbyists then spread money around to gain access, influence, and the most prized possession, a vote. This vicious cycle of using money as a bidding tool for legislative influence doesn’t benefit the average Mainer. It’s not advancing good policy. It’s simply lining the pockets of those who pay big money to hire their own lobbyists. The average Mainer can’t hire lobbyists, nor should they need to. Legislators are supposed to be the peoples’ lobbyist. This bill makes sure both parties are held accountable to everyday Mainers.

The two other parts of the reform package — both of which received unanimous, bipartisan support in the House and Senate — work to complement this massive reform win: One ends the revolving door of lawmakers becoming lobbyists, and the other increases ethics governing political action committees.

After a Republican legislative leader had to step down from his leadership role due to ethics issues in 2017, I knew we needed to look deeper at legislative-led PACs. It turns out, at that time, it wasn’t illegal for a legislator to use a PAC, which can accept unlimited amounts of money, as a personal or business slush fund. A bill I sponsored last year ensures that legislators won’t profit off political contributions and limits the likelihood of further abuses of PACs.

The revolving door of lawmakers and lobbyists swapping roles gets to the distrust people have in government. According to the Associated Press, 22 former lawmakers became lobbyists over the past three decades and raked in over $3.6 million in compensation. Many became high-paid lobbyists just shortly after their legislative service ended, with no waiting period. The obvious issue here is trading on your political connections to advance the bottom line of a special interest or corporation. After all, lawmakers know the ins and outs of the system. That’s why a bill I sponsored prevents legislators from becoming paid lobbyists until one year after their term ends. This “cooling off” period is similar to regulations in most other states and will help level the playing field between lobbyists and the general public.

Having a government of, by, and for the people should be something that unites us. No longer will we have a political system of the lobbyist, by the corporation and for the bottom line. While this work is never over, the oversight never-ending, and the advocacy a constant battle, we should relish the work of current legislative leaders, who had the courage to finally take on an issue that has long been the third rail in politics. With staunch advocates like the Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, Maine League of Women Voters, End Citizens United and Gov. Mills and legislative leaders like Senate President Troy Jackson and Speaker of the House Sara Gideon, we finally have the backing to continue this fight and to champion a more ethical State House.

Lawmakers are beginning to restore trust, integrity and accountability back into the institution of government by passing comprehensive campaign finance reform.


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