The Coastal Packet: Maine's clean election drive gets national attention

Sunday, April 12

Maine's clean election drive gets national attention

Ben Cohen, The Hill - The majority of Maine, 86 percent, agrees that big money in politics has overwhelmed elections and drowned out ordinary citizens. And, Maine people have done more than almost anyone else to combat the problem. Passage of the citizen-initiated Clean Election Act in 1996 ushered in an era of publicly funded elections that earned the support of candidates and voters alike by giving qualified candidates a way to run viable campaigns without relying on large campaign contributions.

Mainers also support transparency and accountability in election laws. But with recent Supreme Court decisions rolling back campaign finance reforms nation-wide, more outside spending with less disclosure than ever before has flooded all political campaigns, and the Clean Elections system is less viable. After years of high participation in Clean Elections, candidates today find that they are less able to compete with well-funded opposition.

That means that as elections get pricier more of our politicians have to forego public funding, and paw at the door of millionaires to raise campaign cash. The voters who fuel Clean Elections campaigns with $5 contributions are no longer at the center of elections. But the people of the Pine Tree State are fighting back.

In the past few months, Republicans, Democrats, independents and Greens all came together to get an initiative on the ballot. If successful, this measure will increase transparency and raise penalties for candidates who break Maine’s campaign finance laws. And, it will restore Clean Elections.

More than 85,000 signatures were collected for the initiative to get on the ballot, and the Secretary of State announced this month that the initiative would go forward this year.  This is a big accomplishment for the grassroots effort that organized the initiative.

“So much about politics is about divisions, but in this Clean Election endeavor, we are Mainers first,” said Republican State Senator Ed Youngblood, who worked with the nonpartisan Maine Citizens for Clean Elections and nearly 1,000 volunteers to achieve this remarkable feat.

The initiative is the first step in restoring the weakened Clean Election Act, and the role of everyday voters within it. Ordinary Mainers willing to give $5 to candidates they support will once again be the most important donors in Maine.

Cohen is co-founder of Ben & Jerry‘s Ice Cream.

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