Paying more for less

Politics + Other Mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  August 1, 2013

"Clean elections” is one of those oxymoronic phrases like “modest celebrity” or “drug-free professional athlete” that I have difficulty compreh ending. Celebs are by definition egotists. Sports stars are by inclination cheaters. And political campaigns are by necessity dirty.

No laws are going to change that.

Nevertheless, the folks at Maine Citizens for Clean Elections continue their futile attempts to limit the influence of filthy lucre on politics. I don’t understand why they insist on trying to divert what is essentially a force of nature, but I applaud their latest effort.

Even though I fervently oppose much of it.

The do-gooders have proposed a referendum in 2014 or 2015 to revamp the Maine Clean Election Act to provide more public money for candidates for governor and the Legislature. This is supposed to mitigate the effects of recent US Supreme Court decisions that have found the matching-funds provisions of taxpayer-financing laws to be unconstitutional. The initiative would also decrease the amount individuals and corporations could contribute to candidates’ campaigns. And it would slap a 15 percent surcharge on all court fines, with the extra cash going to pay not for schools, health care, or roads, but for politicians’ TV ads, lawn signs, and Twitter accounts.

All that strikes me as pointless and burdensome. Not to mention that since voters approved public financing of campaigns in 1996, there’s been not a shred of evidence that it’s produced better quality legislators. (I could make a strong argument that the opposite is true, that it’s actually helped elect more useless boobs.) No successful gubernatorial candidate has ever used Clean Election money. But a host of spectacularly unsuccessful ones (Libby Mitchell, Pat LaMarche, Peter Mills) have. There’s also been no sign that it’s discouraged anyone from spending outrageously to win an election. In fact, campaign spending by independent groups has risen every year since public funding became law, until, in the last election, it amounted to more than was spent by all legislative candidates combined.

In short, the Clean Election Act has produced no benefits.

Nevertheless, I might vote for this revision.

That’s because mixed in among the fanciful ideas for creating a better world by spending more public money on campaigns (thereby encouraging political action committees to spend more, too) and further limiting the amount of private donations to candidates (thereby making contributions to secretive outside organizations that don’t have to disclose their donors’ names even more appealing), there are a handful of common-sense ideas that would increase transparency, make cheating less attractive, and eliminate a glaring conflict of interest.

Let’s start with increased disclosure. Right now, anyone seeking to curry favor with a newly elected governor can make a donation to his or her transition fund, which covers the cost of inaugural activities and other frivolity. There’s no law requiring the source of those contributions be made public. Republican Governor Paul LePage vetoed a bill to correct that earlier this year, because he claimed it called into question the integrity of the governor-elect and “disrespects the decision made at the ballot box.”

Uh, right. Like there’s something wrong with disrespecting dumb decisions voters make, such as approving Clean Elections or electing LePage.

1  |  2  |   next >
Related: Lost in the sound of separation, Feed the animals, Letters to the Portland Editor: May 29, 2009, More more >
  Topics: The Editorial Page , Maine Clean Election Act, Politics + Other Mistakes
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   TAKE THE GAMBLE  |  September 19, 2014
    Governments need stuff to regulate. Otherwise, we wouldn’t need governments.  
  •   THE E.C. PLAN  |  September 12, 2014
    Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler has proposed a much-needed change in the way Maine chooses its governor. Under the Cutler plan, the only people allowed to run would be those with the initials E.C.  
  •   PIMPING AND PANDERING  |  September 03, 2014
    And so, the excitement of the fall political campaigns begins.  
  •   BEAR WITH ME  |  August 31, 2014
    It’s the fall of 2015. A bear walks into a doughnut shop in Portland and says, “Give me two dozen assorted to go.”  
  •   LOOK OUT, CLEVELAND  |  August 21, 2014
    Eric Brakey is an energetic guy. But as an admirer of sloth, I have intense disdain for the excessively active.  

 See all articles by: AL DIAMON