The LWVME Advocacy Committee follows several bills each legislative session and three of interest to us were up for Public Hearing before the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee (VLA) on yesterday (March 2). This report from Helen Hanlon (with the addition by Ann Luther) offers an update on the status of the bills and gives us a ring-side seat to the public discussion. If you want to read the testimony for each bill click on the links below.
By Helen Hanlon
LD 413 (An Act to Expand Access to Absentee Ballots)
Town Clerks were out in force to oppose LD 413 and the majority of attendees at this hearing were opposed to this measure. Several Town Clerks cited an increased work load, primarily on the Monday before Election Day from extensive use of “convenience voting” with no-excuse absentee ballots, and thus an increased chance of error if this bill passes. While absentee voting is becoming very popular with voters, Maine citizens’ already excellent access to ballots (“best in New England after Vermont”) was discussed. In addition, it was maintained that it’s unnecessary for voters to have in-person absentee voting on Election Day.
Ann Luther testified (LWVME Advocacy Committee Chair) neither-for-nor-against, as did the Acting Deputy Secretary of State. Ann pointed out that the remedy could well be Early Voting. The bottom line seemed to be “if it ain’t broke”…., but there may be a chance to lift the ban on no-excuse absentee voting the Friday before Election Day. Read all the testimony on this bill under the “Status in Committee” tab here.
LD 334 (An Act to Improve the Maine Clean Election Act)
Rep. Michael Devin of Newcastle spoke in support of. Rep. Devin is also the sponsor of the bill. He spoke about political action committees (PACs) initiated by Clean Election candidates and how to close this loophole which runs counter to the concept of Maine’s Clean Election Act. Leadership PACs were a particular focus of discussion.
Maine Citizens for Clean Elections also testified in support of this bill, paying special attention to Leadership PACs and the need to have the same rules apply to both privately funded and Clean Election campaigns. It was reported that most of the leadership PACs in 2014 were run by privately funded candidates who vastly exceed their $375 contribution limit in their PAC fundraising.
It was clear that there is a lot of interest in shining light on campaign financing and the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee seems poised for further study at a work session. Read all the testimony on this bill here.
LD 370 (An Act to Amend the Lobbyist Disclosure Procedures Law)
Finally, we heard testimony regarding LD 370. Currently Lobbyists must pay $200 annually to the State. Half goes to the general fund and half goes to the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election. The proposed bill would give the entire amount to the Commission. Suggestion was made to consider simply including needed amount for update of IT and any other expenses in Appropriations. Based on our own experience, we believe there are substantial unmet needs with the Commission’s web site that could serve the public interest. Testimony provided by Mr. Jonathan Wayne, Director of Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election and by Maine Citizens for Clean Elections (MCCE). Read all the testimony on this bill here.
LD 383 (An Act Requiring Corporations to have Approval from a Majority of Their Shareholders before Making Political Contributions Valued at Greater than $5,000).
Reported by Ann Luther:
After a lunch break, the Committee reconvened, and Senator Gratwick presented his bill, LD 383. This bill is similar to LD 53, heard earlier this session, and parallels efforts at the federal level, thus far thwarted, to have the SEC require such contributions to be disclosed to shareholders, at least. Senator Gratwick acknowledged that his bill would only apply to Maine-based corporations and would only have a significant effect if similar measures were passed in many other states, but he cited efforts elsewhere to do exactly that. Rep. Rykerson, the sponsor of LD 53 also testified in support, as did Maine Citizens for Clean Elections. Read all the testimony on this bill here. LD’s 53 and 383 will have their work sessions today, Wednesday, March 4, beginning at 10:00 am. You can listen by audio link here.