When I read Scott Thistle's November 3rd exposé in the Portland Press Herald on the scandalous spending behavior of publicly funded candidates in Maine, I was stunned to learn how slow Maine's Ethics Commission was to act!
Maine has a unique state-level public election funding program under the Maine Clean Election Act, appropriately dubbed "Clean Elections." The program is funded when a participating candidate for state house, for example, collects 60 different contributions of $5 from voters within her own district.
In his Thursday piece, Thistle uncovers the fact that once a candidate collects enough $5 donations to demonstrate she has support in her district, and ends up qualifying for Clean Elections funding, said candidate will eventually spend the money she received from the Clean Election fund on supplies for grassroots organizing. Egad! Let's take a look at some of the unnecessary items Thistle says constituents have to foot the bill for. Included in the list are buying candy for parades, power drills for putting up lawn signs, making campaign T-shirts, and other typical campaign-related expenses. Last I checked, all of these are items traditionally financed candidates spend money on without critique.
Unlike their privately financed counterparts, Clean Elections candidates have strict, specific and very real spending limitations that prevent them from spending voters' dollars on unnecessary personal travel or glamorous activities unrelated to voter engagement - prohibiting them from enjoying the tangential pleasures that outside, privatized money can buy. It's doubtful Thistle realizes that spending campaign funds on things such as American flags and thank you cards for volunteers is squarely within the tradition of political campaigning in Maine, and across the country. In fact, such items really make up only about 0.2% of total campaign spending.
What Clean Elections is really about is giving people who never in their dreams would have considered running for office a legitimate, real opportunity to do so. Think about someone in your life who told you how they always wanted to run for office someday but never did. Friends, now they can actually do that! Maine voters can be represented by people you grew up with and learned to call friends, and not just people who had a jumpstarted financial path in life. And these friends of ours can run their campaigns in a cost-efficient way that maximizes, instead of wastes, our tax dollars. All it takes is 60 five dollar contributions and reallocation of giveaways enabled by our own legislature to outside corporations.
The way Clean Elections receives the remainder of its funding is by ensuring wealthy, non-Maine corporations who used to receive disproportionate tax breaks don’t have an unfair leg-up on native Maine businesses. In a sense, Maine’s government is killing two birds with one stone. Instead of just letting giant outside companies continue to have their way in Maine's economy by leaving open wasteful corporate tax loopholes, we can allocate that money to our neighbors, our teachers and our pastors to run viable, competitive campaigns so they can promote more localized economic policies and represent your voices instead of wealthy out-of-state interests. Don't believe me? Take it from the endorsement of hardworking small-business owners who care about strengthening the representation of Maine's local businesses, and who believe Clean Elections doesn't get enough financial help from the legislature.
I'm sorry that I'm not capable of decrying the obvious political scandal of the year that is spending $42 on candy for a parade. I'm too focused on how much more representative Maine politics is. This November, I, too, want a candy parade of, by, and for Maine people. That candy is OURS!