The Coastal Packet: Restoring an election system that worked

Saturday, September 5

Restoring an election system that worked

Huffington Post - In 1996, Maine became the first state to enact a public financing system for statewide elections, inspiring other places, including Arizona, Connecticut and New York City, to follow suit. This year, Maine hopes to blaze a trail again by becoming the first state to fix the heavy damage visited on its system by multiple Supreme Court decisions.

The system that Maine residents passed in a referendum vote in 1996 provided candidates with a lump sum of public funds if they met a threshold of fundraising in $5 increments from voters in their districts. Candidates were further provided matching funds if their opponent was funding their campaign with their own money, or if an outside group was spending money on the race over a certain amount. Debuting in 2000, the Maine system, known as “clean elections,” worked better and better with each election cycle. By 2008, 85 percent of legislators were running with public funds.

The idea was to provide a path for candidates to run even if they didn't come armed with a network of wealthy donors willing to give $1,000 or $5,000. Passage of the referendum allowed waitresses, teachers, firefighters, convenience store clerks and others to run for office and win. Women benefited especially, running in greater numbers than had been possible before. Thanks to public funding, the state soon had the most blue-collar legislature in the country.

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