A voter emerges from the voting booths Wednesday inside the State of Maine Room at Portland City Hall where in-person absentee voting is in progress. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Portland’s first clean elections candidates for mayor have significantly more money behind their campaigns than those using traditional fundraising.

The two candidates who are using the new program – Justin Costa and Andrew Zarro – have tapped into roughly $40,000 so far. That’s about twice as much as Pious Ali, who has raised the most out of the remaining candidates, according to the first round of campaign finance reports, which run through Sept. 19.

But the total amount raised so far is still below the record set during the 2019 mayoral election when three of the four candidates had gathered a combined total of nearly $360,000 by the end of October. Kate Snyder, who was elected that year, raised $85,300 by that time. Ethan Strimling, who was running for a second term, had raised $161,725.

The clean elections program allows candidates to receive funding from the city to support their campaigns, rather than soliciting individual donations. The idea is to make it possible for regular people – those who work busy jobs and are new to politics – to fund campaigns, and to move candidates away from seeking funding from special interest groups and a small number of wealthy donors.

It was just this spring that the Portland City Council approved a clean elections ordinance that mirrors the state program.

Mayoral candidates receive an initial $40,000 and are eligible to collect another $60,000 throughout the election. To qualify, mayoral candidates need to collect 200 qualifying contributions between $5 and $100. The candidates can use that money, up to $5,000, to pay for initial expenses before they get the clean elections check.


According to those early finance reports, Costa raised and spent about $2,600 in initial seed money, while Zarro raised and spent roughly $4,500. Both then received an initial $39,873 from the city.

Costa received the funding a few days before campaign finance reports were filed last week. As a result, he reported no spending. Costa said Wednesday that he has since spent some of that money, which will be included in the next report due at the end of October.

Zarro received his clean elections funding in July and as of Sept. 19, he had spent $13,618, mostly on yard signs and campaign handouts. He has since qualified for supplemental funding, but that amount was not included in the latest report.

Of the candidates using traditional financing, Ali had raised $20,974, including about $8,300 from the Pious for Council group. About one-third of the donations came from people in Portland, another third came from outside of the state. He also took out a $4,000 loan from Maine Movement Building for campaign planning and management. He reported spending nearly $8,000.

Political newcomer Dylan Pugh raised $622 from family members and friends as well as individuals who contributed $50 or less. He contributed $100 himself. He spent only $405, mostly on yard signs.

Mark Dion had raised $13,822. He transferred $1,000 from a previous campaign, contributed $2,000 to the campaign himself, and raised the rest of the funds from Mainers, mostly in Portland, including Charlie Mitchell, the owner of Bayside Bowl, and former City Councilor Tae Chong. Dion has spent $4,244.



The fundraising gap is smaller in the three City Council races on the ballot this fall, where more than half of the candidates qualified for clean elections funding. At-large City Council candidates can receive $10,000 in initial funding and then qualify for an additional $30,000. District council candidates can get $4,000, then $12,000.

In the at-large race, both candidates – Willian Linnell and City Councilor April Fournier – are using clean elections funding. Fournier reported $399 in seed money, including a $100 donation from Anna Bullett, who is running for the District 4 seat currently occupied by Zarro. Linnell raised $670 in seed money. Fournier has spent just $127 of the $10,000 in clean elections money. Linnell hasn’t spent any of it.

Bullet also is using the program, as is Kate Sykes, who is running for the District 5 seat currently held by Dion.

In-person absentee voting is in progress at Portland City Hall. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Sykes already has qualified for supplemental clean elections funding and had received $6,666 as of Sept. 19. Her opponent, Matthew Buonopane, did not sign up for clean elections funding and had raised $1,550 for his campaign.

Bullett’s opponent, Sam Cady, also is running a traditionally financed campaign and raised $3,250.

In the only contested school board race for an at-large seat, Usira Ali is running a traditionally financed campaign, while Austin Sims is a clean elections candidate. Sims has received $4,980 from the city. Ali had not raised or spent any money.

School board candidates can qualify for just under $10,000 total for at-large seats and $5,000 total for district seats.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.