Restoring Power to the People: Money in Politics Roundtable

A lively BREAKFAST ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION on money in politics was hosted by Mainers for Accountable Elections on September 2 at USM’s Abromson Center. Moderated by Alison Smith, (a League member) Co-Founder of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, and featuring:

The panel discussed ways to change the role of big donors in our election system and create a government of, by and for the people on local, state and national levels. All the participants acknowledged the cynicism surrounding our election process today, ever since the Supreme Court declared that money is speech. Only one third of the eligible voters in Maine turned out for the election in 2014, Andrew Bossie reported.

Saying that she believes Mainers are hungry for change, Jill Ward said, “In my conversations I am encountering that level of cynicism, but also people want to find a way out of it. They don’t want to give up on this idea that when they go to the polls, they’re a meaningful participant in what’s going on in the community and the state and the country.”

People are disgusted and have a sense of powerlessness, Rep. Sarbanes commented. While 96% of the nation’s population agreed that money was the problem, 91% felt that nothing could be done about it. He outlined H.R.20, his proposed Government by the People Act, which would establish a small donor matching system to combat the influence of big money in politics and return government back to the American people. The proposal complements the Maine’s referendum Question 1 on the ballot for this November’s (sponsored by Mainers for Accountable Elections – to strengthen Maine’s first-in-the-nation Clean Election Law by requiring special interest groups to disclose their top donors and increasing fines and penalties for campaign finance violations).

Peter Mills, has over 15 years’ experience in the Maine Legislature and said that any method of public campaign financing that incentivizes small donor contributions is worth pursuing. “There is something to be said for a bit-sized democracy that is for taking things on in small doses, focusing on them, getting them passed and then moving on to the next stage — there’s power in that,” he stated.

The League of Women Voters of Maine supports Maine’s Clean Elections Initiative. We worked with our partners at Maine Citizens for Clean Elections to gather more than 80,000 signatures to advance a citizen initiated bill that will strengthen Clean Elections, disclose dark money, and close loopholes for the future. Mainers object to the growing role of big money in politics and we believe government should be accountable to everyday voters, not just to wealthy campaign donors.

The League of Women Voters of Maine was a founding member of the coalition that worked to gather signatures to pass the Maine Clean Election Act in 1996.  Since it went into effect in 2000, the Clean Elections Act has allowed good people from diverse backgrounds to run for office; kept candidates focused on voters, not donors; and allowed legislators to serve in office without strings to big money.

Before Court and Legislative actions damaged the Act, 85% of Maine lawmakers used Clean Elections to fund their races. That included Democrats, Republicans, Greens, and independents. And Clean Elections has allowed Maine to have more working class people serve in the legislature than in any other legislature in the country.

While it has been discouraging to see this successful program diminished, it is very exciting to see Maine people stand up for the future of Clean Elections by collecting signatures and getting their friends and neighbors involved. The Clean Elections Initiative is our best chance to restore, strengthen, and ensure the success of Clean Elections for the next generation of Mainers.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Maine’s Clean Elections Initiative, see Mainers for Accountable Elections.




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