Testimony: Reining in Taxpayer Subsidized Political Campaigns (LD 1221)


Testimony in Support of LD 1221, “An Act to Make Changes to the Distribution Amounts to Certain Maine Clean Election Act Candidates in Contested General Elections”

Senator Hickman, Representative Supica, and the distinguished members of the Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs, my name is Nick Murray and I serve as director of policy for Maine Policy Institute. We are a free market think tank, a nonpartisan, non-profit organization that advocates for individual liberty and economic freedom in Maine. Thank you for the opportunity to testify in support of LD 1221.

Even though the Maine Clean Elections Act (MCEA) has failed to deliver on proponents’ claims of greater electoral competitiveness and legislative diversity, Maine taxpayers, despite their individual political views, are still forced to subsidize political campaigns.

Maine has spent more than $44 million on taxpayer-funded political campaigns to date. In 2018, the state spent more than $6 million, a 90% increase from 2016, largely due to the disbursements to three gubernatorial primary campaigns. This legislature should completely repeal the MCEA, but passing LD 1221 will help to reduce potential runaway costs of the program by limiting the amount of public funds politicians may receive to run their campaigns.

Legislators should be especially wary of unknown spending lines, given the current majority budget spends 98% of all projected revenue over the next two years.

Despite the MCEA’s stated goals, negativity in campaigns and special interest money have never been more widespread in Maine politics. This is in line with national trends over recent decades. Politics is a rough game, and while we encourage all Mainers to get involved in the public policy process, no one should be forced to participate in it, directly or indirectly, if they so choose.

As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, Maine Policy Institute is prohibited from engaging in election or campaign activity, yet the state may disburse public money to political candidates and implicate Maine taxpayers in the messages and advertisements of politicians with whom they may disagree. Tax dollars should not be used to pay for political consultants or mail pieces. A viable candidate should be able to attract voluntary contributions.

Shouldn’t those who finance political campaigns have some interest in doing so? What better method then are voluntary, individual contributions for providing transparency, and securing the right to choose one’s level of engagement in the political system? 

Not only does the MCEA force taxpayers to financially support candidates with whom they may disagree, but the program has cost Mainers millions of dollars over the last decade. Though the MCEA has often been touted as a way to level the playing field between candidates, a University of Maine review of 20 elections revealed that “electoral competitiveness in Maine has not been appreciably affected by MCEA.”

This is likely due to the emergence of PACs and outside special interest groups which have allowed “clean” candidates to receive taxpayer funding while enjoying the support of deep-pocketed donors. Any rationale for taxpayer-funded candidates fails to take into account this basic law of politics: money finds a way.

Please rein in MCEA spending that could cause unneeded stress to the state budget; deem LD 1221 “Ought to Pass.” Thank you for your time and consideration.