Maine’s “Clean Elections” gubernatorial candidates decidedly non-average


The Bangor Daily News reports today that Maine gubernatorial candidate John Richardson is awaiting word on whether the Maine Ethics Commission will approve him for several hundred thousand dollars in public funds as part of that state’s “clean elections” program. Apparently he turned in approximately 3,500 “qualifying contributions,” more than the required 3,250 but possibly not enough after ineligible contributions are removed from the total.

What caught my eye in this article was not the intricacies of the qualifying standards and candidate Richardson’s efforts to meet them (those of you following my Twitter account, seanparnellCCP, might recall Richardson as the candidate who enlisted unions endorsing him to help raise qualifying contributions. For those of you not following me on Twitter, shame on you for having lives). Instead, it was the brief biographical information provided regarding Richardson that drew my attention:

…But the commission is still reviewing whether Richardson – a former lawmaker and economic development commissioner for the state – had received enough valid contributions to qualify…

For some reason, I was curious about Richardson and his too-close-to-call-at-this-time submission for “clean elections” funding, and checked out his online bio. From the Richardson campaign’s web site:  

In 1998, John beat an incumbent Republican to win election to the Maine House of Representatives…

… The following term, as chair of the Business and Economic Development Committee, he sponsored and wrote the economic development bond bill that passed on the June 2002 ballot…

John was elected House Majority Leader, and then the 97th Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2005…

In 2007, John was named Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development

In other words, Richardson has a fairly typical background for the type of person who can run a credible campaign for governor, with more than a decade of public service including the top two positions in the Maine House of Representatives.

But where are the “average” citizens that we have been told are empowered by “clean elections” programs to run for office? A key selling point of these welfare for politicians schemes is supposed to be that non-traditional candidates and outsiders, those without the backing of major interest groups and deep-pocketed contributors, would be able to run and compete. In fact, current Maine House Speaker Hannah Pingree said as much in her testimony to the U.S. House last summer in hearings regarding the Fair Elections Now Act:

…public financing has changed the face of Maine politics. Public financing has encouraged many non-traditional candidates to run – from young people and women to working people and single mothers – because they don’t have to have networks of wealthy friends and supporters or industry support for their candidates.

This sort of assertion is pretty typical when it comes to so-called campaign finance “reformers” touting the benefits of taxpayer financed political campaigns. So, being the sort of person who likes to compare rhetoric to reality, I thought it might be interesting to determine whether the backgrounds of the other three candidates seeking “clean elections” money in Maine were representative of “average” citizens who, to borrow from Speaker Pingree’s testimony, “don’t… have networks of wealthy friends and supporters or industry support for their candida[cies]” or if they were more like Johnson, an accomplished public servant who had undoubtedly built a substantial network over his time in office.

Some biographical excerpts from the web sites of the three other Maine gubernatorial candidates seeking “clean elections” funding:

Pat McGowan: Patrick K. McGowan has the background to succeed as Maine’s next governor… His record in public service is one of high achievement – from his years as a legislator from Somerset County in the 1980s, to his position as regional administrator for the US Small Business Administration  in New England, to his most recent post as Commissioner of the Maine Department of Conservation.

As a State Representative, he introduced and sponsored the Land for Maine’s Future bill… His legislative experience also included serving on the state budget and utility committees.

In his role as Small Business Administrator, under President Bill Clinton, Pat set record-breaking numbers for loans to small businesses in New England…

…In the course of his recent tenure as Maine’s Conservation Commissioner, 1 million acres of land has been placed in public trust…

 Pat McGowan also has experience in campaigning for national office, having been the Democratic nominee for US Congress in Maine’s 2nd District in 1990 and 1992.

Libby Mitchell: Elizabeth (Libby) H. Mitchell was unanimously elected as Maine’s 113th Senate President on December 3, 2008. She has the distinct honor of being the first woman in America to serve as both the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House…

A resident of Vassalboro, Senator Mitchell was first elected to the Maine Legislature in 1974. Her legislative service includes nine terms in the House and three in the Senate…

In addition to serving her community in the Legislature, Libby has served three terms on the Vassalboro Board of Selectmen. She also serves on the board of Maine General Health, Maine Coalition for Excellence in Education, New England Board of Higher Education and Jobs for Maine Graduates. She served seven years on the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, chairing the board for four years. She has also served on the board of Kennebec Health Association, Home Resources of Maine, Kennebec Valley Medical Center, Oak Grove-Coburn School and as director of the Maine Homeless Coalition.

Peter Mills: …His father served in the legislature, the military, and as US Attorney for the State of Maine.

…During 16 years in the Legislature, Senator Mills has served as a Republican lead on Tax, Labor, Judiciary, Appropriations, Education and Health & Human Services Committees…

…Harvard College BA. Graduated cum laude in English 1965

State Senate 1994-2002; Maine House of Representatives 2002-2004; State Senate from 2004-present

Military Experience (1965-70): Five years as a destroyer line officer with sea duty billets in communications, operations and intelligence. Deployed to Vietnam, the Central Pacific and the Mediterranean. Was awarded the Navy Achievement Medal… and the Navy Commendation Medal…

From August 2005 to June of 2006, conducted an unsuccessful statewide campaign for governor in the GOP primary…

Past president of the Maine Trial Lawyers Association (1992-94). Inducted into the American College of Trial Lawyers in 1991.

Now perhaps Maine is where all of the above-average children from Lake Wobegon go when they graduate, and the backgrounds and political experience of these four candidates truly is typical of the “average” citizen of Maine. More likely, however, is that contrary to the claims of “clean elections” advocates the program has not made it easier for “average” citizens to run for office, it is instead little more than an opportunity for well-connected politicians to loot the public treasury to fund their campaigns, all while making it sound like they’re doing voters a favor.

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