Having a ball

The Clean Election Act
By AL DIAMON  |  December 14, 2011

For my birthday, a friend bought me a baseball cap with the letters "TR" on the front. That stands for Templeton Rye, my favorite whiskey. But the first time I wore it, some idiot in a bar accused me of being a Texas Rangers fan.

I didn't bother to explain. I just kicked him in the crotch.

And as serendipitously as that, I was struck by a brilliant idea. Also, the fist of a friend of the guy I kicked.

When I recovered from my concussion, I realized that "TR" could also stand for the name of a much-needed process to help politicians lacking the fortitude metaphorically associated with certain glands. And thus was born the enterprise known as Testicular Replacement.

So far, TR offers several versions: plastic, steel, and our cheapest and most popular model, papier maché (we've sold a gross each to the wimpy officials in Portland, Bangor, and Augusta to help them deal with Occupy Maine protesters).

I mention this not to drum up business (we can't keep up with demand, what with rush orders from the likes of Republican US Senator Susan Collins — her brass ones were received just in time for her decision to break with her party and vote to keep payroll tax breaks — and Democratic executive director Dale McCormick of MaineHousing — her custom-designed titanium implants reinforced her defense of logic-defying expenses for low-income housing projects).

Nevertheless, some potential customers have been utterly unresponsive to our sales pitch. I refer to members of the Legislature's Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee.

In November, this august assemblage met to decide how to revise Maine's Clean Election Act in the wake of federal court rulings, including a US Supreme Court decision, that said sections of the law were unconstitutional. Specifically, the justices said that providing additional matching funds to Clean Election candidates who are outspent by privately funded opponents violates the First Amendment, because it discourages donors from contributing when they know their cash will generate a similar contribution from taxpayers. Even independent expenditures on behalf of a candidate trigger the Clean Election match. Chief Justice John Roberts said that was "impermissibly burdening," both on donors and non-publicly funded candidates.

Maine voters approved the Clean Election Act in 1996. Since then, most candidates for the Legislature have taken advantage of it, grabbing a share of about $3 million during each biennial campaign. But without matching funds, the system doesn't work. That's because opponents would be aware in advance that the maximum a House hopeful could spend was about $5,000, and a Senate contender topped out around $21,000. In the late stages of a campaign, privately funded candidates and independent political-action committees could flood the district with negative mailers and TV attack ads, knowing the publicly funded patsy had no more cash with which to respond.

In other words, leaving the Clean Election law in the, er, emasculated state the court ruling created makes no sense. No one would dare to use it, unless that candidate was an unopposed incumbent in a district with no unemployment, minuscule property taxes, and free beer. So, the only sensible alternatives for the committee were to get rid of the law altogether, thereby saving $3 million, or revise it to include incredibly complicated re-qualifying provisions that would allow candidates to receive extra money if they were in danger of being drowned in opposition cash.

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  Topics: Talking Politics , Politics, elections, Voting
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