At a time of heightened sensitivity to foreign powers meddling in elections, the Maine Legislature is deciding whether to stop foreign corporations from spending money to influence some state elections.

A proposal discussed at a public hearing Wednesday came in response to Hydro Quebec’s spending in support of a power transmission corridor to bring hydropower from Quebec through Maine to the new power grid.

Opponents of the $1 billion project have obtained enough signatures to force a statewide referendum vote in November.

Pete Didisheim of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which opposes the energy corridor, noted Wednesday that the proposal comes at a time when Americans are concerned about Russian influence in U.S. elections.

“This shouldn’t even be a close call,” he told the Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs in Augusta.

Robert Howe, an attorney representing Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, also spoke in favor of the bill, telling the committee that Maine should “address corporate contributions of all kinds, whether foreign or domestic.”


Foreign money is barred from federal elections and from state elections involving candidates, but there’s currently no such prohibition on foreign spending in state elections involving ballot questions, said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kent Ackley, an independent from Monmouth.

“Whether you are for or against the CMP corridor, every Mainer ought to be disturbed when we see a foreign company, such as Hydro-Quebec, controlled completely by a foreign country, attempting to buy a Maine election,” he said.

But a Hydro Quebec spokeswoman said the people of Maine “have a right to hear all sides of the story.”

“Passage of this bill would do a serious disservice to Mainers because it would prohibit the very information that is needed by the public to make an informed decision,” said Lynn St. Laurent, the spokeswoman.

Hydro Quebec, which is owned by the Canadian province, has spent thousands of dollars on digital, print and radio ads in Maine. Its political action committee also paid a $35,000 fine for a late financial disclosure.

The bill targets Hydro Quebec over its support for Central Maine Power’s proposed 145-mile hydropower transmission project.


The New England Clean Energy Connect would allow up to 1,200 megawatts of hydropower generated by Hydro Quebec to flow into the regional power grid to meet Massachusetts’ green energy goals.

Most of the transmission line would follow existing utility corridors, but a new swath would be cut through 53 miles of wilderness that the power company owns.

Supporters say the project will reduce reliance on fossil fuels, lower carbon emissions and reduce electricity costs across the region.

Critics accuse the utility of underestimating the environmental harm and failing to take into account the potential harm to homegrown solar, wind and biomass projects in Maine.

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