Question 1 on Tuesday’s ballot would be a big step forward for accessible and accountable elections in Maine.
“By passing Question 1 we can return control of our elections to the hands of Mainers, restore faith in our political system and protect the fundamental principle of having a government that is truly of, by and for the people,” said Senator Angus King, who endorsed the initiative earlier this month.
But the campaign hasn’t been without opposition. A few weeks ago, a group of vocal conservatives led by Governor Paul LePage and Rep. Lawrence Lockman (yep, that guy) held a press conference announcing their opposition to the initiative. More recently, the State Chamber of Commerce came out against the question, specifically the part that would increase public financing of elections by closing corporate tax loopholes.
The policy is popular among voters, so opponents have had to resort to making some rather outlandish claims. Perhaps the most offensive was LePage’s comment that public campaign finance was like “giving your wife your checkbook.”
Of the more serious arguments, however, three stand our for their ridiculousness:
1. The first is the oft-repeated claim that the initiative should be voted down because its backers have raised too much money to fund their campaign, something opponents have labeled “the height of hypocrisy.”
This critique only makes sense if you have a truly distorted view of the effects of money on politics. Campaign finance reformers don’t hate money on general principle. They don’t think that $100 bills are laced with poison or that being wealthy makes you a bad person. What they have a problem with is the influence wealthy individuals and corporations gain with elected representatives by contributing to their campaigns and the way this distorts public policy.
Neither are they naive. They know exactly how our current system works and what it takes to run a credible campaign.
Individuals and organizations that have contributed to the Yes on 1 campaign aren’t seeking some kind of payback (how could that possibly work), they’re concerned with making Maine’s elections more accountable. That’s completely different than corporate donors backing a candidate in the hopes that it will increase their profits.
2. The second is the claim that the initiative won’t succeed in it’s stated goals of reducing the effects of big money in politics.
“It does absolutely nothing to get big money out of this,” claimed LePage at a recent town hall in Auburn.
First of all, if this were true, conservative interests, including the Maine Heritage Policy Center, which receives funding from foundations linked to conservative oil magnates Charles and David Koch, wouldn’t be so concerned about its passage.
Second, no one thinks that this one law addressing a handful of aspects of campaign financing in the state of Maine is the answer to all the issues of money in politics. It is, however, a step in the right direction, requiring greater disclosure and enforcement of violations and strengthening public financing so candidates without the backing of wealthy individuals and corporations can better compete.
3. The most ridiculous claim I’ve heard, however, has to be the central point of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce’s opposition, which is that the funding mechanism for the initiative – closing $6 million worth of corporate tax loopholes – would cost the state jobs. They even claimed it’s “like playing Russian roulette with the Maine economy.”
Have these people been asleep for the past year? It was just in April that an investigative report revealed Maine taxpayers had been fleeced of more than $30 million through the New Markets tax credit program by out-of-state financial firms. Simply recouping the money from that horrendous scam (something legislative Republicans have so far blocked) would more than pay for strengthening Clean Elections.
Let’s not forget that those loopholes were themselves created with plenty of lobbying dollars and campaign contributions greasing the skids.
Question 1 isn’t a panacea and if it passes there will still be plenty of work to do to continue the fight against the corrupting influence of money in politics (and, for that matter, to close the loopholes that large corporations have written into our tax code), but it takes us in the right direction. It shifts the balance of the system a bit more towards regular people and away from those who would exploit our democracy for their own private gain.