Report from the Statehouse: VLA Work Session April 8, PAC Reform and More

By Helen Hanlon

Today, a time crunch was in effect to clear up the magnitude of bills we have been following and discussing. The committee had a 60% deadline by Friday, April 10. They worked in a very bipartisan way to move quickly through a lot of bills. Some were combined/ amended and many were dispatched. Here goes:

  • LD 850 An Act to Establish Special Elections to Fill U.S. Senate Vacancies.
    Action: Ought Not To Pass (Unanimous) Cost, feasibility cited as reasons.
  • LD 790 An Act to Make Political Advertising Accountable and Transparent (Another bear-related bill).
    Action: ONTP (Unanimous) Constitutional issues of free speech raised by Attorney General, and enforcement by whom cited as rationale.

Regarding the campaign finance bills that follow, the Legal Analyst lead a discussion about competing measures relating to the Clean Elections Initiative that will appear on the ballot this fall and when new legislation in the same area of law would appear on the ballot as an alternative or competing measure. The committee seemed wary of wading into that territory.

  • LD 719 An Act to Provide Fair Access to Maine Clean Election Funds. Discussed as one of those “competing measures,” but there may not have been much appetite for the policy anyway.
    Action: ONTP (Unanimous)
  • LD 175 An Act to Limit Clean Election Funds to First Time Candidates. An issue was discussed regarding the need to clarify “running for first time.” Some committee members thought Clean Elections should be available to candidates even after their first race. And also another one of those competing measures.
    Action : ONTP (Unanimous)

The next five bills all relate to PAC reform, prohibiting some or all candidates from participating narrowly or broadly in fundraising for committees other that their own campaign. The committee chairs suggested killing all these bills and going forward with one bill, either using one of these as a vehicle or generating a new committee bill. After a short break to research what would be entailed in drafting a committee bill, they decided to pick the lowest numbered of these five as the vehicle, LD 174, and to kill all the rest.

  • LD 204 An Act to Prohibit Certain Activities By Maine Clean Election Candidates.
    Action: ONTP (Unanimous)
  • LD 619 An Act to Limit the Participation of Candidates and Legislators in Political Action Committees and Nonprofit Entities Conducting Political Activities. Concern about limiting freedom of association with language too broad. But there was some support in the committee for limiting leadership PACs for both publicly and privately financed candidates. Members holding that view were encouraged to offer a minority report on the surviving bill, LD 174.
    Action: ONTP (Unanimous)
  • LD 532 An Act to Prohibit Maine Clean Election Candidates from Accepting Special Interest Money through a Political Party or a Political Action Committee.
    Action: ONTP (Unanimous)
  • LD 334 An Act To Improve The Clean Election Act.
    Action: ONTP (Unanimous)
  • LD 174 An Act to Restrict the Raising of Money by Maine Clean Election Act Candidates. This will be the sole surviving bill on PAC reform this session. Rep. Luchini offered an amendment to strike the bill and substitute language that would ban a Clean Elections candidate from establishing a PAC for which that candidate is an officer, primary decision-maker, or fundraiser.
    Action: OTP-Amended (Unanimous, though it appeared that some committee members did not realize voting ONTP was their chance to offer a minority report in favor of something like LD 619)

Then, they went on to the last two bills of the day.

  • LD 617 An Act To Change Municipal Campaign Contribution Limits. Will roll back contribution limits to pre-2011 levels. Amend to include county limits and push back the effective date (to Jan. 1, 2016) until after municipal elections already underway for this fall. I’m not sure that was the sponsor’s intention, but oh, well.
    Action: Ought to Pass as Amended. (Unanimous)
  • LD 904 An Act to Increase Fairness in Campaign Financing. The Executive Director on Govt. Ethics and Election Practices provided 4 recommendations for changes to this provision of law addressing campaign contributions in primary, general, and special elections for unenrolled candidates. The Ethics Commission could not decide on one approach. Neither could the committee.
    Action: Tabled.
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