Clean Elections Violates Free Speech

Judge’s Decision Upholding Free Speech Abuses Appealed to First Circuit Court


A ruling last Friday by Federal District Court Judge George Singal upholding unconstitutional provisions of the Maine Clean Elections Act has been appealed to the federal First Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Maine Clean Elections Act, passed in 1995, provides taxpayer funding for Maine legislative and gubernatorial candidates who agree to limit how much money they raise and spend on their political campaigns. Under the Act, participating legislative candidates receive between $500 and $19,000 in initial funding, plus additional so-called “matching funds” of up to $38,000 if they are outspent by their opponent and/or independent groups.

In other words, for every private dollar spent in support of a traditionally funded candidate or in opposition to his or her “clean” opponent, the “clean” candidate receives an equal amount in taxpayer-funded matching funds to spend freely on their own campaign.

The plaintiffs, State Representative Andre Cushing and former State Representative Harold Clough, have argued that the matching funds scheme is an abuse of free speech rights guaranteed in the United States Constitution. The two plaintiffs brought suit in August challenging the constitutionality of matching funds. Judge Singal denied the plaintiffs’ motion to stop the use of matching funds during the 2010 election.

Based on recent federal court rulings in Arizona, Connecticut and Florida, The Maine Heritage Policy Center, local counsel for the two plaintiffs, was confident the federal courts would rule on the side of free speech and overturn the unconstitutional matching funds provision in its appeal decision.

“Under the guise of leveling the playing field, Maine’s so-called matching funds severely limit the free speech rights traditionally funded candidates and their supporters were once guaranteed,” said David Crocker, director of MHPC’s Center for Constitutional Government. “Such a scheme undermines the fundamental principles of democratic elections, and we are confident the First Circuit Court of Appeals will recognize and overturn this unconstitutional abuse of First Amendment rights.”

James Bopp, Jr., General Counsel for the James Madison Center for Free Speech, and the plaintiffs’ lead counsel in this case, agreed.

“Under this system, simply running an ad against a candidate can result in that candidate getting more taxpayer money. Candidates who don’t use taxpayer funding for their own elections shouldn’t be forced to effectively fund their opponents with public dollars.”