The group that wants to prohibit foreign government spending on state referendum campaigns submitted a petition to the Maine secretary of state Tuesday aimed at putting the initiative on the November 2023 ballot.

Protect Maine Elections spent the last 12 months collecting 80,749 signatures from Mainers seeking to close a funding loophole identified by the 2021 Federal Election Committee, which determined the federal agency has no jurisdiction over state referendum elections.

Foreign governments can’t contribute to candidate campaigns, which fall under FEC jurisdiction. But the only way Maine and 25 other states that allow citizen-led referendums can block foreign contributions to those is to explicitly ban them in state law, said spokeswoman Kaitlin LaCasse.

“It is unconscionable that foreign governments are currently permitted to dump millions of dollars into referendum campaigns, the very tool with which Maine voters can directly affect State law,” said Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, group chairman and former president of the Maine Senate.

“In order to maintain the integrity of our elections and political process, we have an obligation to close the loophole identified by the FEC in 2021, and it’s no surprise that Maine voters agree,” Bennett continued in a statement.

While the initiative would ban foreign spending on all referendums, organizers were inspired by last year’s election and the big money – $22 million at last count – that Canadian government-owned Hydro-Quebec spent trying to stop a referendum to overturn approval of an electricity transmission line through western Maine.


The referendum passed, but the Maine Supreme Court ruled this summer that the vote to block the Central Maine Power Co.-supported, $1 billion, 145-mile transmission corridor could be unconstitutional if a lower court rules that work on the project was too far along at the time of the vote.

The petition also calls for an anti-corruption amendment to the U.S. Constitution and reasonable state and national campaign fundraising and spending limits. It would direct Maine’s congressional delegation to adopt the amendment and the Maine Ethics Commission to track the delegation’s progress.

In addition to Maine, 21 other states have asked Congress to enact a constitutional amendment to authorize state and federal limits on the influence of money in elections. Such limits were common until the Supreme Court ruled that unlimited political spending was equivalent to free speech.

“Voters in my district, and indeed around the state, are sick and tired of having their voices silenced by millions of dollars in dark money political ads,” said Sen. Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth. “The current level of spending, which increases every year, is poisonous to our democracy.”

Grohoski continued: “This initiative is the antidote that Maine voters are asking for.”

The signatures must be certified by the Maine Secretary of State’s Office before the question can be sent to the Legislature, which could choose to enact the bill or a competing measure or send it to state voters on the 2023 ballot.

The group needs at least 63,000 signatures – or 10 percent of the number of people who voted in the last gubernatorial election – to have the question qualify for the ballot. The secretary of state has 30 calendar days to review and confirm the petition signatures.

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