A Portland group seeking public funding of city election campaigns said it will appeal a court decision to dismiss its lawsuit aimed at putting its proposal to a citywide vote.

A Superior Court judge dismissed the suit May 13, ruling that the Portland City Council was within its rights to ask voters if they want to establish a charter commission to examine the proposal to provide public funding for mayoral, City Council and school board races.

Fair Elections Portland gathered more than 8,500 petition signatures last year seeking to put the public-campaign funding question on the November 2019 ballot.

But a city attorney convinced councilors not to send the proposal to voters because it would require the city to pay for the clean elections program, a major revision of city government that would have to first be reviewed by a charter commission.

Creating a charter commission is a more time-consuming process that requires a vote on whether to set up a commission, public hearings and putting the wording of a proposed charter change to city voters. Fair Elections Portland had argued that its proposal only constituted a charter amendment, which would not require those steps, but the council disagreed.

Fair Elections Portland asked a judge to order the city to put the public-funding question to voters. But Superior Court Justice MaryGay Kennedy said the council had the authority to determine that the question constituted more than merely a charter amendment, and to require that voters decide whether to create a charter commission.

The City Council put that question on the June ballot, but that election has been delayed until July because of the coronavirus pandemic.

John Brautigam, the lawyer for Fair Elections Portland, said he expects an appeal of Kennedy’s decision to dismiss the suit will be filed with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court this week.

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