Public Hearings in VLA and SLG, April 13, 2015

By Helen Hanlon and Ann Luther

Hop-scotching through the State House, Ann Luther, Polly Ward and Helen Hanlon played tag covering bills in hearings in both the SLG and VLA Committees on Monday.

VLA heard five bills that we are following:

  • LD 1192 An Act Regarding Campaign Finance Reform: Seeks to address how money is moved back and forth between PACS. It would require naming the top donor, paying a tax  to the Maine Clean Election Fund , voluntarily signing of pledge form, detailed disclosures by unions to their members with a $500 fine for non-compliance.  Despite the concern that some of the provisions are likely unconstitutional and others probably ineffective, it seemed that many of the committee members felt that some reform is needed to address PAC-to-PAC transfers. Rep. Turner felt that this transfer of money without disclosure was “nothing more than money laundering.”

Opposed by MSEA as specifically targeting unions  who already have numerous reporting requirements  and other federal limitations, also citing some constitutional issues and “onerous burden” considerations.

NFNA: Maine Clean Elections concurred with the unequal treatment of unions vs corporations, calling for any “pledge” to apply to all, not just MCEA races ( Specifically Sec. 4 and 7), as well as raising “competing measure” issues.

NFNA: Commission On Government Ethics: Submitted an outline of what is currently available for disclosure on their website and felt the Attorney General’s office should review the proposal on  the issue of fees/fines and the pledge.

  • LD 1138 An Act Regarding Municipal Reporting of State Elections:  This Bill attempts to correct the problem of some towns chronically failing to report election info to the Secretary of State, currently a 20 day window after an election. LD 1138 has a “shaming “provision, requiring posting the Town Clerk’s delinquency in a newspaper and town report, along with a $50/day fine (levied on the Clerk).  The role of Town supervision of clerks was discussed. Many clerks are elected.

Opposed by Maine Municipal Assoc.  Another mandate? Plus punishing a clerk in such a humiliating way was viewed as not the way to go.

NFNA : Maine Clerk’s Association:  “How about a $50 incentive vs a fine?”

NFNA:  Deputy Secretary of State:  Much testimony about requirements/ compliance efforts, frustration with some Town’s that repeatedly fail to report, plus accuracy issues and impact on an accurate voter data base. Supports increasing time for reporting from 20 business days to 35 or 40 days.

NFNA: Ann Luther testified about the need for accurate and efficient reporting system .  Read her testimony here.

  • LD 1067 An Act To Protect The Clean Election Fund.   Rep. Davitt introduced this constituent bill, and Rep. Dillingham read testimony from the constituent, discussing how the Maine Clean Election Fund was marginalized  by PACs  and proposing a 10% fee to maintain the  Clean Election Fund. Despite broad sympathy from many on the committee, it seemed tacitly understood that such a fee may be deemed a tax on speech and, as such, unconstitutional.

Committee recessed until 1:30 pm: Ann Luther covered the remainder of the day in VLA while Polly Ward and Helen Hanlon were at the State and Local Government Committee.

In VLA, the committee heard a couple of bills on veterans’ affairs before turning to:

  • LD 1127 An Act Regarding the Authority of the Secretary of State and the Attorney General To Conduct Investigations of Vote Recounts. This bill was introduced in reaction to the issues that arose from the Senate District 25 recount last fall. Sen. Cathy Breen, who ultimately prevailed in that race, offered testimony is support. Julie Flynn offered comprehensive testimony about what happened in that race. The League testified NFNA but supporting the idea that there are other stakeholders than the candidates and the parties, and that the recount supervisor should have the authority to take measures to protect those interests regardless of what the candidate/party representatives might want. Read the League’s testimony here.

Meanwhile, over in SLG they were hearing:

  • LD 1103 Resolve, To Study Understaffing in State Agencies. Chronic under-staffing and salary suppression were underscored throughout the hearing. Apparently there was a report commissioned in 2005 outlining serious pay deficits in comparison to private sector  pay bases  that  was marked “Confidential”  until discovered by FOIA in 2009 (ranging from 7.5%- 21.6%  less than private sector).

All who testified were in support of a survey but some indicated that another study without action will be another blow to morale and recruitment and retention. Age of current State workers, workload, as well as a living wage was discussed. Ferry captains and foresters discussed chronic staffing shortages. Ferry operators have at times been working 12 hour days for up to 25 days, using some unqualified or barely qualified staff to fill the ranks. Polly Ward testified in support of LD 1103 for the League, well received by State employees. Read the League’s testimony here.

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Report from the Statehouse: VLA Work Session April 10, Elections

by Ann Luther

Last day before the 60% deadline. The Committee continues to work efficiently and in a bipartisan fashion. They did four liquor bills first, then turned to the election bills of interest to us.

  • LD 858 An Act To Better Inform the Public of Election Results.
    Action: OTP-Amended to stipulate “where feasible.”
  • LD 744 An Act To Permit Unenrolled Voters To Cast Ballots in Primary Elections. No specific objections, vague concerns about cost. No visible support. Read the League’s testimony on this and other bills this session here.
    Action: Ought Not To Pass (Unanimous)
  • LD 720 An Act To Establish an Open Primary System in the State. Pending citizen action on ranked choice voting cited. No visible support.
    Action: ONTP (Unanimous) Read the League’s testimony on this and other bills this session here.
  • LD 770 An Act To Permit Maine Residents To Register To Vote Online. No visible support. Read the League’s testimony on this and other bills this session here.
    Action: ONTP (Unanimous)
  • LD 677 An Act To Amend the Election Laws Concerning Candidates and Nominees. This bill had to do with banning the practice in both parties of running “paper candidates” and then replacing them at the last minute. There was some support in the committee for this, but in the end, it fell to the deadline and the practical considerations of changing it.
    Action : ONTP (Unanimous)

At the end of the afternoon, they had made their 60% deadline! Congratulations all around.

But then, just before they adjourned, Rep. Monaghan moved reconsideration of LD 174. This had to do with banning leadership PACs for both privately and publicly funded candidates, instead of just for publicly funded candidates. You will recall from Wednesday’s blog post that some committee members were supportive of this approach, believing it to be more fair to candidates on both sides, and had intended on Wednesday to sign onto a minority report. But the vote on LD 174 (banning leadership PACs only for Clean Elections candidates) was taken before they realized what they had to do procedurally to get a minority report. So the question was revisited at the end of the session on Friday. After a little parliamentary snafu, the committee voted unanimously to allow reconsideration. Rep Luchini made his same motion to amend, banning only Clean Elections candidates from having leadership PACs. Rep. Chenette was invited to the table to make his pitch for a both-sides ban. Then Sen. Collins promptly called for a “caucus,” the secretive practice whereby committee members huddle by political party behind closed doors to say off-mike what they don’t want to say on the record and choreograph their public votes along party lines. So they caucused. When they came, they took a vote and, lo and behold, it was unanimous OTP as Amended. No minority report.

Everyone, including me, headed out with well-wishes for a good weekend.

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.