By Regina Coppens and Iris Levitis
Three bills were considered in the January 13 Work Session of the VLA Committee and then brought back for additional review on January 20. Bills may be tabled and later taken from the table for consideration. Bills that have been voted out of committee may be brought back for re-consideration if someone on the prevailing side (that is, the winning side of the vote) requests that the committee discuss the issue again.
LD 1484 An Act Regarding Election Laws
This bill was based on LD 1335, a vetoed bill from first session. Reworked with several amendments, highlights of the 1484 include:
- Section 1: Addition – voter registrar cannot serve in an election if an immediate family member is running for federal office. In the existing law, a registrar cannot serve in the election if an immediate family member is running for a state, local or county office.
- Section 5: Clarifies which state agencies must provide voter registration services and makes it similar to the federal law.
- Section 6: Clarifies who can obtain voter registration lists. Adds get-out-the-vote organizations, as well as political parties, to the groups that can access lists if they are directly related to a campaign.
- Section 9, 10, and 11: Clarifies conditions when a candidate withdraws from an election. Changes the deadline for a candidate to withdraw and be replaced from 60 days to 70 days before the primary or general election. Explains that a candidate may withdraw and be replaced if the candidate is incapacitated by a condition or injury, and requires a certificate signed by a single licensed physician to accompany the withdrawal request. Current law provides only for incapacitation due to an illness and requires a certificate signed by two licensed physicians.
- Section 15: Clarifies that a municipal clerk may not serve as the supervisor of an election when a member of his or her immediate family is a candidate for federal, state, county or local office, but may serve as supervisor if she is running for the office of the municipal clerk.
- Section 30: A municipality may opt to process absentee ballots as early as the 4th day before the election and authorizes the use of regional high-speed ballot tabulators for absentee ballots. A municipality may bring absentee ballots to a state-designated central location for tabulating with the high-speed machines.
Result: OTP-AM, unanimous, the amendment being to Section 15, § 506. Instead of prohibiting a municipal clerk from serving as the supervisor of an election when a member of his or her immediate family is a candidate for federal, state, county or local office, the amendment would disqualify the municipal clerk only if the clerk him/herself was a candidate.
Rep. Lucchini requested that the Committee discuss LD 1484 again despite its having been voted OTP on January 13 (since the January 13 vote was unanimous, any committee member could request that the bill be brought back for re-consideration). In this case, the reason was to discuss Section 15 of the bill which, as amended, prohibits municipal clerks from supervising an election in which they may be a candidate.
Deputy Sec. of State, Julie Flynn, testified that in some communities clerks run for treasurer or tax collector which is not incompatible with their role as clerk. The S. of S’s office would like to reconsider issue over the summer, take out this section of the bill and revisit it next year. The primary concern is in small towns where clerks often do multiple jobs in town government and how to manage pragmatic staffing concerns with this potential conflict of interest. Dep. Sec. Flynn requested time to study the issue and best consider how (and whether) to address it.
Result: Unanimous support from committee to pass LD 1484 as is, minus Section 15, § 506.
LD 1509 An Act To Simplify the Filing of Campaign Independent Expenditure and 24-hour Reports
This measure aims to provide greater clarity about what does and doesn’t need to be reported under the 24-hour reporting requirements for campaign expenditures. The bill narrows the requirement for political action committees, ballot question committees and party committees to disclose within 24 hours expenditures greater than $1,000 made in the last 13 days before an election. The 24-hour reporting requirement is limited to expenditures for communications to voters to influence a ballot measure, expenditures for polling activities and expenditures in the form of contributions to a political action committee, party committee, ballot question committee or candidate
Director Wayne from the Maine Ethics Commission testified that the law will make it easier for committees to file expenditures online. Reps. Turner and Dillingham expressed reservations about filing an affidavit online versus presenting a paper copy, saying that their voters want more transparency and online affidavits were not transparent enough. There was discussion about what the level of crime should be if a committee makes a false statement about campaign finances in the affidavit. The legislators caucused for 10 minutes before a motion was made to table for further study.
Result: vote to table was unanimous.
LD 1509 was discussed after being tabled on January 13. Rep. Lucchini suggested that a compromise was possible if the Committee could get the details right. But, he noted, “if we split here the bill will be unlikely to succeed on floor.”
Result: ONTP, unanimous
LD 1510 An Act To Improve the Disclosure of Financial Activities by Political Action Committees and Ballot Question Committees
This measure seeks to establish a uniform threshold of $100 for both political action committees and ballot question committees regarding political contributions in campaign finance reports. The main tenets of the bill are:
- Clarifying that the definition of “political action committee” does not apply to an individual;
- Requiring political action committees to register with the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices within 7 days of receiving contributions totaling more than the applicable threshold of $1,500 or $5,000;
- Requiring ballot question committees to register with the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices in a manner similar to political action committees, including appointing a principal officer who would be jointly liable with the committee and the committee treasurer for penalties assessed against the committee;
- Establishing a uniform threshold of $100 for both political action committees and ballot question committees regarding political contributions in campaign finance reports; and
- Modifying the criteria for when a political action committee must report a contribution made for the purpose of influencing a candidate or ballot question election.
Most of the discussion centered on raising the threshold from $50 to $100 for reporting campaign contributions for both PACs and Ballot Question Committees. Currently PACs have to report contributions of $50 or more, while the threshold for BQC is $100. Director Wayne from the Maine Ethics Commission argued that this change would decrease the burden and increase consistency in reporting laws. He maintained that a contribution of $100 won’t unduly influence politicians. Rep. Dillingham expressed concerns over transparency and was concerned about lowering the threshold.
The discussion on LD 1510 continued, with Jonathan Wayne, Executive Director of the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, on hand to answer questions. He pointed out that the Commissioners had been unable to agree on some of the original language in the bill, which had already been simplified from the staff’s original proposal. Some Committee members viewed the new language as ambiguous. Rep. Dillingham said, “It feels as though the loophole is getting bigger with this language. The original ambiguity is better than the clarification.” Rep. Turner echoed this and suggested fixing the language rather than just taking out that portion of the bill. When questioned about the language in the bill, Mr. Wayne admitted that much of it was copied from a similar California measure that was passed in the last two years. Sen. Patrick questioned whether what they were trying to do was constitutional, but in the end the Committee was left with the same confusion and misgivings that the Ethics Commission had. Rep. Lucchini moved to pass as amended, striking language on 1060-a, $50 instead of $100 so that BQC are in line with PACS, both at $50.
Result: OTP-Amended, unanimous