Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, speaks during a rally at the Maine State House on Tuesday to support a bill to ban foreign spending in Maine referendum campaigns. Maine lawmakers failed to override Gov. Janet Mills’ veto of the bill. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Supporters of an effort to ban foreign governments from spending money on Maine referendum campaigns are vowing to pass the measure through a statewide ballot question after the Legislature failed Tuesday to override Gov. Janet Mill’s veto of the proposal.

Members of the House voted 73-50 in favor of the override motion, shy of the two-thirds majority needed to revive the legislation. Lawmakers have been unable to override any of the 41 vetoes Mills has issued since taking office in 2019.

Also on Tuesday, lawmakers sustained Mills’ veto of a bill that would have included farmworkers under the state’s minimum wage and overtime laws.

Lawmakers were expected to work into the evening, casting final votes on a batch of bills that had been tabled while awaiting funding. They are trying to close out the legislative session, which has stretched well-beyond its original, June 21, adjournment date.

Along the final actions still pending Tuesday was passage of a compromise bill to advance the development of offshore wind turbines. The bill is a combination of three separate bills: increasing the height of offshore turbines, allowing the construction of a coastal port to service wind turbines, and beginning the process for identifying and choosing an offshore wind developer.

The foreign spending bill is now headed to a citizen-initiated referendum, and proponents, led by Protect Our Elections, quickly turned their attention to the November election after the veto override vote failed.


“In an election season where foreign government-owned entities have already spent over $17 million, Maine voters are eager to place commonsense limits on campaign spending,” campaign manager Kaitlin LaCasse said in a written statement. “We are grateful for the thousands of volunteers who have been working around the clock and across the state in support of this initiative and we look forward to engaging with even more voters over the next several months.”

Supporters urged lawmakers to enact the bill outright rather than requiring a costly fall campaign, pointing to spring polling showing 82% of respondents supporting it. But opponents argued that the bill would muzzle other Maine businesses and the constitutional rights of a free press.

During the House floor debate, it was largely Republicans debating each other over the measure, which also calls on Maine’s congressional delegation to support an anti-corruption amendment to the U.S. Constitution to allow for reasonable limits on campaign fundraising and spending.

Rep. Nathan Carlow, R-Buxton, urged his colleagues to override the veto. He dismissed concerns over the constitutionality of the ban and its impact on the media, saying that similar laws have been enacted in nine other states.

“While the chief executive is consistent in her opposition to this bipartisan commonsense measure, I am consistent in my bewilderment and confusion by those objections,” Carlow said.

Carlow said a recent poll showed that 91% of Republicans surveyed last spring supported the ban. He noted that more than 80,000 Mainers signed the petition to place the question on the November ballot.


“The Legislature now has the justification, the opportunity and the solemn responsibility to pass this initiative, not withstanding the objections of the chief executive,” he said, “or we will surely face the ridicule of voters this November for delaying most certainly the inevitable outcome of this referendum.”

But Rep. Laurel Libby, R-Auburn, urged lawmakers to sustain the veto, calling the proposal “an attack on free speech.” She compared the bill to efforts from some lawmakers to tax bottled water.

“Everyone here knows that bill is always to target one business: Poland Spring,” Libby said. “This bill is very similar. It’s intended to target one company: CMP. But its shotgun approach would spray scattershot across Maine businesses, infringing on their right to free speech.”

Overriding the veto would not have prevented the foreign corporations that own Maine’s two largest utility companies, Central Maine Power Co. and Versant, from spending millions on a separate referendum this fall that would result in a public takeover of their energy transmission and distribution systems. That’s because a separate law enacted this session before the foreign spending bill postpones the effective date of the foreign spending ban until Jan. 1.


The vote came after nearly two dozen supporters of the proposed ban rallied at the State House on Tuesday morning, calling on lawmakers from both parties to override what they called Mills’ “misguided” and “nonsensical” veto. Advocates lined the hallways with signs urging support as lawmakers filed into the chamber.


Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, who leads the Protect Maine Elections campaign, said at the news conference that he was disappointed that Mills had sided with opponents he described as “few, foreign and financially unfettered” and seeking to “disrupt our democracy.”

“It’s extraordinarily disappointing that the governor would succumb to their influence,” Bennett said. “We cannot let them succeed. I urge my colleagues to stand with Maine people and vote to override the governor’s veto of L.D. 1610.”

Mills vetoed the bill Wednesday, saying the broad language raised First Amendment concerns by silencing local businesses and forcing news outlets to verify funding sources for campaign ads and remove any material that violates the law.

“Foreign actors have, and will, attempt, to influence elections in America, but in attempting to protect our citizens from such nefarious actors, we should not create a bureaucratic morass that will entrap and silence otherwise legitimate voices and undermine the fundamental American cornerstones of free speech and free press,” she said.

Mills said the bill would not prevent foreign entities from contributing to a ballot initiative campaign and it would not prevent them from hiring lobbyists to influence legislation. She also expressed concerns that the 5% threshold for foreign ownership could effectively silence the voice of a business that has 95% local ownership.

“Most troubling,” Mills said, was the bill’s attempts to regulate the free press, which she said would violate the First Amendment. The bill would prohibit media outlets from publishing ads that are directly or indirectly funded by a foreign entity, which she said is vaguely defined. It also would force media companies to remove noncompliant communications and penalize outlets that do not comply.

Both the Maine Broadcasters Association and the Maine Press Association opposed the bill.

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