CCP urges Maine lawmakers to repeal tax financing

The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) called on the Maine legislature to repeal its program of taxpayer subsidies for gubernatorial candidates. The system, known as the Maine Clean Election Act, has failed to achieve any of its intended goals yet continues to fleece Maine taxpayers.

“Tax financed campaigns were supposed to eliminate corruption, alter legislative voting patterns, diminish interest group influence, and promote citizen participation in elections,” said Center for Competitive Politics President Sean Parnell. “Not only is there almost no evidence that the program achieved any of these goals, the data suggests that the opposite is happening.”

The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over campaign finance issues, heard testimony Wednesday advocating full repeal of the tax financing system. The committee is also expected to take up this issue again on Feb. 25.

LD 120, sponsored by Rep. Tyler Clark, would end tax financing for gubernatorial candidates. LD 80, sponsored by Rep. L. Gary Knight, would end tax financing for primary candidates who run unopposed. CCP sent a letter to Maine lawmakers Thursday detailing reasons supporting restricting tax subsidies while urging a full repeal.

Doling out “matching funds” to candidates who are unable to keep up with their opponents does not expand citizen participation in elections. To the contrary, offering “matching funds” for political opponents creates a state intrusion into the political process that chills the speech of truly citizen funded campaigns and independent groups. The U.S. Supreme Courts and various lower courts have ruled this intrusion is inconsistent with the First Amendment. Specifically, recent rulings in Arizona and Connecticut struck down similar provisions on the basis that the state cannot provide preferential benefits to state-supported candidates based on the spending of non-participating candidates and outside groups.

In addition to First Amendment issues, Maine’s political subsidy program has failed to eliminate corruption, and in fact increased opportunities for corruption. In a 2007 ethics report, a Maine commission details numerous instances of corruption ranging from using funds for personal expenses to forging signatures.

CCP research on a similar tax financing program in New Jersey shows that state legislative candidates often rely on interest groups to raise the qualifying contributions necessary to receive government funding, and reports in Arizona and Maine demonstrate the same.

“Detailed studies of voting patterns show that campaign finance laws similar to Maine’s don’t decrease the influence of interest groups within the legislature,” said CCP’s Director of Research & Government Relations Laura Renz.

Aside from the failure of Maine’s tax financing program to meet many of its goals and its suspect constitutionality, Maine would benefit financially if it were repealed. In the last ten years, the program has cost Maine taxpayers more than $17 million.

“Maine shouldn’t continue wasting taxpayer money on negative political ads, bumper stickers and other perks for politicians,” Parnell said. “It’s time to repeal welfare for politicians.”

The Center for Competitive Politics is a nonpartisan, nonprofit group dedicated to protecting First Amendment political rights. CCP seeks to promote the political marketplace of ideas through research, litigation and advocacy.