D’Augusta – Dirigo: Clean Elections, Maine’s Innovation, Served Us Well

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Former U.S. Senator and U.S. Secretary of State Ed Muskie, who had a home in Kennebunk for most of his adult life, liked to be billed as “from Maine,” born and raised on Maine virtues, from Maine brand. Mainers are independent thinkers, and we have often led by example, in keeping with our state motto “Dirigo”. Combine this independence and innovation with political access that is simply not available in many other states, and you have citizens who, if they decide to become active, have a real opportunity to gain influence.

Chris Babbidge Courtesy picture

Maine led the nation in instituting clean elections, and in retrospect, to paraphrase Wordsworth, that made all the difference to me.

As we all enter this election year of 2022, for the first time as a sitting legislator, I am not campaigning, getting petition signatures, organizing events introduction and does not collect qualifying contributions as I have successfully done seven times before. This is my fourth consecutive term in office, my term is limited, so my service at Kennebunk as a member of the House ends in December. What helped me make this rewarding journey possible was that I never had to go to powerful interests with a hat in hand asking for the lifeblood of politics: money.

Maine was the first in the nation, through the Maine Clean Election Act citizens’ initiative in 1996, to introduce its clean-election public funding system. At the time I thought that was an important innovation, although I remember rejecting the humiliation of some of so many good people among our elected officials who up until then had adhered to the existing rules, now suddenly considered “dirty”.

When my life evolved to the point where I considered participating on a new level, the option of public funding became an important ethical option for me. I could have raised the necessary money privately, but I’m understandably uncomfortable with self-serving solicitation – not good for a candidate. I was a social studies teacher, constantly challenging students with the ethical decisions of history and the obligation of active citizenship, and now that I was about to step on the march in 2004, the qualification process election clean was there for me.

Publicly funded elections gave me the independence to speak and vote without worrying about personal financial consequences in the next election. I have been able to follow my conscience, talk to lobbyists only as information resources, and speak and vote, in committee and on the floor, in a way that reflects my own assessment of right and wrong as a informed legislator. The responsibility comes with both the press and the coverage of interest groups, and I hope that the examination of my actual record, all to be assessed by the voters who will express their will in the next election, in less than two years.

The clean election process has not resolved the potentially unhealthy influence of money in elections nationwide, or even in Maine. Because the idea of ​​clean elections is to provide a way for a candidate to run and get their message across without being beholden to some financial donor, it also forces a candidate to accept a spending cap.

A source in the state informed me that in the last election the state average in House races provided to state-funded candidates qualifying by recruiting $5 contributions in the district, is probably between $8,000 and $9,000. Once qualified, the minimum allowed for a contested general election is currently $5,475, with a path to qualify for more up to an additional $11,000.

If the opponent chooses not to run “clean”, that opponent has no spending cap. The goal of winning public office is to be at the table to implement policy consistent with one’s values, but that success depends on whether or not a majority of like-minded people are in Augusta after the election. . This prompts some good people to determine that if they want to be competitive, they need to run a traditional privately funded campaign, especially in targeted House races, or larger district races like Senate and Governor. of State. The last candidate from a major state-funded party to run for governor was the Hon. Libby Mitchell in 2010.

Within the rules, leadership PACs can be formed to solicit and then distribute funds to other privately funded applicants. Political parties may also spend independent expenditures to support or oppose a candidate as long as it is not coordinated with the specific campaign. And given the consequences of Citizen’s United and the emergence of protected black money under the guise of free speech, powerful, well-funded private interests can insert themselves into elections without the public knowing the original source. donations. Citizens must continue to demand transparency.

However, a clean election was a success in Maine. After the increase in clean electoral support, as approved by the people in 2015, organizing a state-funded campaign remains a viable option.

A certain amount of community outreach is required to obtain the eligible $5 checks, all of which must be declared. In 2020, when COVID-19 attacked during this process and public events that facilitated the collection process were canceled, approximately 45 candidates dropped out of the clean electoral journey. Of the 346 candidates in the general elections, 154 were traditionally funded and 55.5% used the MCEA.

For me, running clean meant that my investigation of the facts before a legislative decision was less likely to be complicated, consciously or unconsciously, by preformed relationships with interest groups, whether they were, historically for me, allies or opponents.

But independence, in itself, is not a virtue. An independent candidate, a critic of party affiliation, once said during a debate: “I don’t listen to anyone. I am my own man. I approached him after the debate and suggested he was wrong. My advice was not to ignore alternative viewpoints, but to listen to everyone, sort through the facts, and then have the integrity to make the tough decision. It’s not foolproof, but clean elections help make it happen.

We have reason to be proud of the government of Maine. I know that my own committee, the judiciary, has well-meaning people who work very hard on very important issues, including child protection, juvenile criminal justice, privacy and the protection of human rights. man, all with long-term consequences for the lives of Mainers, and that’s just the 16 bills on the agenda so far for this week. During my service, although burdened with the pressure of responsibility, I was free from additional pressures, direct or indirect, thanks to public funding. Allowing me to serve this state for six terms without the usual solicitations of money has been a blessing, and I am grateful. More importantly, I believe it’s good for Maine.

Christopher W. Babbidge is the representative for Maine House District 8, Kennebunk. He can be reached at [email protected]

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