Join Us in Voting Yes on 1

By Jill Ward, President of LWVME

Well, here we are — into the final week of this historic campaign!

The League of Women Voters has been there every step of the way. We have given our good name, we have given our time and energy, and we have donated precious dollars.  Q1

But we haven’t won yet. And when it comes right down to it, what we need more than anything is for Mainers to get out there and vote!

Question 1, the first statewide, citizen-driven initiative of its kind since the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, will put control of elections back in the hands of Mainers by reducing the power of big money. It will increase accountability and transparency. Best of all, it will revitalize Maine’s landmark public campaign financing system.

There has been plenty of support from across the state and the political spectrum. Question 1 has been endorsed by Democrats, Republicans, Greens and independents who want to hold elected officials accountable and keep control of elections in the hands of the voters.

Here are some of our favorites:

We have also gotten national attention from Paul Blumenthal at the Huffington Post as a leader on campaign finance reform: Maine Voters Hope To Restore Their Revolutionary Election System

In these last critical days of the campaign, getting our supporters to the polls will be absolutely critical.  Your vote is so important. Can you bring a friend to the polls with you? How about four or five friends? Or better yet, join one of the phone banks going on around the state to mobilize our supporters and get them to the polls.

QuestionOne

Now is the time for all Mainers to stand together in support of our Clean Elections system.

Join us in voting Yes on 1 and in doing what you can to make sure this landmark campaign is successful on November 3rd! See you at the polls!

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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.

 

 

Report from the Statehouse: SLG Committee Public Hearing May 27

By Helen Hanlon

Demonstrators crowded the entrance to the State House for a press conference in anticipation of the Public Hearing on HP 956 (A Joint Resolution Calling For a Constitutional Convention Regarding The Status of Corporations As People and the Role Of Money In the Election Process). Dressed in a variety of garb sure to draw attention – especially in the 90 degree heat –their passion was obvious.

With a full afternoon of hearings ahead, we all streamed into the SLG Hearing room. There was an overflow crowd to hear proposals for changes to the selection process of State constitutional officers (Attorney General, Secretary of State and State Treasurer). The full SLG Committee was in attendance, though some needed to leave during the long afternoon for work on other Committees. To my surprise, Senate Chair Whittemore said that each proposal for each office would be heard separately.

LD 1417 (Resolution, Proposing an Amendment  to The Constitution Of Maine  To Change The Selection Process for The Attorney General)

LD1418 (Resolution, Proposing An Amendment To The Constitution Of Maine To Provide For A Lieutenant Governor and Change The Line of Succession For Governor)

LD 1419 (Resolution, Proposing An Amendment To The Constitution Of Maine To Change the Selection Process for The Treasurer of State)

First-term Legislator, Rep. Stetkis, presented each proposal while acknowledging that these were the Governor’s bills. Despite that, he faced very tough grilling, primarily from Reps. Evangelos and Co-Chair Martin with a few more polite jabs from Rep. Babbidge. Rep. Stetkis, took it in good humor, admitting he’d had no part in writing any of these proposals and hadn’t spoken to the Governor about why we needed these changes. This was all in the spirit of getting away from partisan politics, he said. After the guffaws subsided, the very public issues between the Attorney General and the Governor were rehashed and the consolidation of power was mentioned. Hank Fenton, Deputy Counsel to the Governor, spoke on behalf of the Governor, saying that a more efficient, cohesive team would be better for Maine. No one seemed to buy that argument.

Next we moved on to items of interest to the League: HP 804 and SP499

HP 804 (Joint Resolution Making Application To the Congress of The United States Calling a Convention of the States to Propose Amendments to the United States Constitution To Impose fiscal restraints, Limit Federal Power and Impose Term Limits)

A long list of people signed up to testify and there was a 6-1 ratio in favor of the Resolution. Note: We were surprised to find so much well-organized support for these measures. To learn more about the supporters see the links below.[i]

SP 499 (Joint Resolution Making Application To The Congress of The United States Calling A Constitutional Convention To Propose an Amendment to the United States Constitution to Require a Balanced Federal Budget and Further Fiscal Restraints)

Rep. Short and Rep. Crafts introduced the resolution and spoke about the need to fix the Federal Government, saying that we shouldn’t be afraid to do this. Since there was a packed house, the Committee Chair, stated that there would be a strict 3-minute rule for testimony. Despite that, Ken Quinn of Grassroots Citizens for Self Government (whom Rep. Crafts and Rep. Short called an expert on the topic) was given an hour and a half to speak. Mr. Quinn is apparently leading the charge throughout the land for a “meeting of states” – not a constitutional convention. He stated that whoever wrote the bill did it incorrectly and the wording would need to be amended. His extended testimony turned into a lecture on constitutional convention, Federalist Papers, Hamilton, Madison and state vs. federal powers. At one point, Rep. Evangelos interjected that he was hearing from all sorts of “arm-chair constitutional scholars” via email on this issue and so facts were thrown back and forth in a match between government history wonks.

Once Ken Quinn brought his testimony to a close, others could speak (it was after 4:30 by then) and the pro/con testifiers alternated with 5-4 ratio in favor. Those supporting the measure railed against our unfair federal government, and one woman even held up a torn $10 bill stating this was all the money she had left and hadn’t been able to pay this year’s or last year’s taxes. She demanded that the government has to get off her back. Meanwhile, her cell phone kept ringing – adding to the cacophony in the room.

Those in opposition included a district rep from the John Birch Society, an Attorney from Connecticut and the League, along with a citizen from Camden who spoke spontaneously (the “League of Voters got it right!” regarding what happens when cutbacks occur in times of crises). I was asked one question after testifying: Rep. Pickett questioned the statement in our testimony about deficit spending being admissible, in our opinion, in times of crises. “What about our $19 trillion deficit?”

The Attorney from Connecticut, Deborah Stevenson, testified testified because she was asked by friends – that is, she was not being paid. Her testimony was precise, interesting and focused, citing specifics of why we should proceed very cautiously when considering a Constitutional Convention. She noted that states have unlimited powers to rectify situations when we don’t want to deal with the Federal Government: we can tell them to take their $ and leave. She and the windy Ken Quinn agreed to return for a work session. Some members of the gallery were restless and objecting during her presentation (because she’s from away). It was enough of an interruption that Rep. Dore ask them to be polite and quiet. Questions from the Committee were xenophobic in nature – who was she & why did she come up from Connecticut for this?  Yipes, someone from away!

Meanwhile the pack of people there for HP956 were getting hungry because it was after 6pm. I headed home, waving “nite-nite” to Danielle Foxx, Legal Analyst extraordinaire from VLA Committee. At least I’ve made some friends this session – but I miss the bear bills & the good ol’ days of February and March!

 

 

[i] http://www.conventionofstates.com/; https://selfgovern.com/ & http://www.themainewire.com/2015/05/quinn-maine-joins-convention-states-movement/

 

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.

Legislative Report: VLA Public Hearing March 2, 2015

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.