Magic money

Clean Elections
By AL DIAMON  |  April 4, 2012

It's fun to pretend there are supernatural solutions to our problems. Such as:

• Beating the rising cost of gasoline with electric cars that don't carry a lifetime cost higher than the average congressional race, not to mention serious environmental problems in disposing of worn-out batteries.

• Providing affordable health care to everyone in a way that doesn't bankrupt the government, the medical industry, the insurance industry, the consumer, or all of the above.

• Balancing the state budget, without either painful cuts to the social safety net or onerous tax increases that cripple the economy, by returning Maine to the 1990s, when there was plenty of money.

• And raising the standards for honesty and transparency in legislative political campaigns through a system wherein qualified candidates receive taxpayer money to pay for convincing voters to cast ballots for them.

Before any of that happens, I expect to see Santa Claus on my rooftop, free beer during legislative hearings, and Democrats winning all the public offices in Piscataquis County.

Wait, I can hear you saying (I have remarkable hearing ever since making that wish upon a star), those first three ideas may be idle daydreams, but Maine actually has a public financing system, approved by voters back in 1996. Since then, more than two-thirds of all legislative candidates have taken advantage of it, which has resulted in a Legislature filled with devoted public servants of remarkable intelligence and unassailable integrity.

That preceding sentence is true, except for the part between the last comma and the period. For the $23 million this state's taxpayers have spent on the Maine Clean Election Act (also known as the Free Money for Preserving Undeserving and Undistinguished Politicians Act), they've received stretches of mediocre governance, occasionally interrupted by bouts of indifference, ineptness, arrogance, and the naïve belief that fairies were about to wave away our troubles with their wands.

So unacceptable have the representatives and senators who used Clean Election cash proven to be that in 2010, voters threw large numbers of them — mostly Democrats — out of office and replaced them with unicorns. Oops, sorry, I meant Republicans (I was confused by the pointy heads), many of whom, in spite of their aversion to government funding of anything, gladly took the handout because . . . heh, heh. . . they're hypocritical trolls.

Nevertheless, the public continues to support the concept. According to a poll commissioned by Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, an advocacy group for public funding, over 69 percent of the state's citizenry wants to keep on paying pols to run for office. This shows either that the Clean Election law is fulfilling its goals or that the people polled were mostly idiots.

Last month, the GOP-controlled Legislature approved a bill to correct a small problem with the public financing law, namely that the US Supreme Court had found part of it unconstitutional. The justices said giving additional funds to candidates who were being outspent by privately funded opponents violated the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech. So Maine lawmakers stripped that provision from the statute and refused to replace it with some alternative method of allowing extra funding.

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