Advocates rally at the Maine State House 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

Maine voters have passed a referendum to ban foreign governments and affiliated organizations from spending money on state and local referendum campaigns.

Ballots were still being counted at 9:30 p.m. when the race was called by The Associated Press. With 224 of the state’s 571 precincts reporting, 86% of those voters supported the proposal with 119,312 in favor and 18,955 opposed, as of 10 p.m.

Proponents claimed victory shortly after the AP called the race.

“Today, voters have sent a strong message – our democracy is not for sale,” said Kaitlin LaCasse, campaign manager for Protect Maine Elections. “Maine voters launched this initiative because they were determined to protect our elections from foreign government interference and dark money special interest groups. Thousands of volunteers collected signatures, contacted their legislators, and asked their friends and neighbors to vote YES on Question 2 at the ballot box.”

The question is the result of a citizen initiative and petition drive. Question 2 would close what advocates called a loophole in state campaign finance law that allows foreign governments to spend money to influence state and local referendum campaigns. The measure is largely a response to foreign government spending in a referendum campaign two years ago over the future of a planned electricity corridor in western Maine.

Federal and state election laws already prohibit foreign nationals from contributing to candidates seeking office in Maine, but they do not ban foreign governments or entities from spending money to influence state and local referendums or elections.


The proposal prohibits any entity or business with at least 5% ownership by a foreign government or government-influenced entity from spending money on state or local elections.

It also requires media outlets, such as newspapers and television broadcasters, cable and satellite television broadcasters, and social media companies, to establish due diligence policies to ensure that campaign ads comply.

Protect Maine Elections is the only organized group that is spending money to pass Question 2. The group has so far spent more than $750,000 on the initiative.

The proposal is opposed by the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Maine Forest Products Council and Gov. Janet Mills, who vetoed two similar bills after the Legislature voted in favor. It’s also opposed by the Maine Association of Broadcasters and the Maine Press Association, which say the proposal will infringe on the First Amendment rights to free speech and free press.

Only one other state – Minnesota – has a similar prohibition. But similar laws are being considered in California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York and Washington.

The referendum was proposed in response to record spending during a 2021 referendum aimed at halting a controversial power transmission corridor in western Maine.

Hydro-Quebec, which is wholly owned by Quebec and would use the transmission line to send power from Quebec into New England, spent more than $23.3 million to try to defeat the measure and protect the project. And Avangrid, Central Maine Power Co.’s parent, is owned by Spain-based Iberdrola, and was part of a group that spent more than $42 million to oppose the measure.

In the current election cycle, Maine’s two private utility providers, CMP and Versant, which is owned by the Canadian city of Calgary, are spending heavily through two ballot question committees to defeat a proposal to establish a publicly owned utility company to take over their electricity distribution businesses.

As of a week before the election, the companies had spent more $29 million to defeat the measure.

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