AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Supporters of Maine’s law allowing public financing of election campaigns are worried by a portion of Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed budget, which they say would deprive legislative and gubernatorial candidates of funds for their 2014 campaigns.
The budget seeks to cut $2 million disbursements for the Maine Clean Election fund in each of the next two years, for a total of $4 million.
‘‘The governor’s proposal to kill Clean Elections would ensure that big-money special interests dominate our elections in 2014,’’ Maine Citizens for Clean Elections Executive Director Andrew Bossie said. ‘‘Maine citizens demanded Clean Elections to ensure that government is accountable to voters, not the highest bidding wealthy donors.’’
Funding for Clean Elections was not a high priority for LePage in making a budget in a fiscally challenging environment, spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said. LePage, a Republican, opted for private funding during his successful 2010 gubernatorial campaign.
‘‘This budget we had to prioritize. Giving welfare to politicians came further down the list from protecting Maine’s most vulnerable people,’’ said Bennett, adding that it’s a ‘‘false premise that these dollars take the politics out of’’ campaigns.
Voters approved the Maine Clean Election Act in 1996, making Maine the first state to do so. Under the law, legislative and gubernatorial candidates who qualify by collecting the required number of small donations receive public funds for their election campaigns.
The program has proven to be highly popular with candidates from both parties since it was first used in 2000. As many as 81 percent of legislative candidates have financed their campaigns with Clean Election funds in some years, although the percentage dipped from 77 percent in 2010 to 62 percent in the 2012 elections.
Recent legislative elections have seen high levels of spending on behalf of some legislative candidates by independent, third-party organizations. Maine’s Clean Election Act used to provide matching funds for publicly funded candidates targeted by those third-party groups, but the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011 struck down that provision. The decision in effect took away publicly funded candidates’ ability to access extra cash when their privately funded opponents outspend them.
Bossie said his group will push for legislation this year to address that portion of the law. A similar attempt was rejected by the last Legislature.
‘‘We should be fulfilling the will of Maine people by strengthening our campaign finance laws so voters, not out-of-state special interests, have a greater voice in Augusta,’’ said Sen. Ed Youngblood, R- Brewer, sponsor of the bill to address matching funds.