Losers can be winners

Politics and other mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  September 6, 2006

Are you totally lame? If so, you may qualify for an exciting career as a phony politician.

Thanks to the Maine Clean Election Act, people with no discernable aptitude for governance can earn easy money by pretending to run for the state Legislature. You don’t have to know anything about the issues. You don’t even have to know your opponent’s name. You just have to let yourself be used in a scheme to milk the taxpayers.

It would also be helpful if you’re utterly unelectable. To determine if you’re sufficiently repulsive to voters, check to see if your name has ever been associated with any of the following terms:

• al Qaeda sympathizer
• on-line sexual predator
• New York Yankees fan
• Governor John Baldacci

If so, skilled political operatives with hidden agendas will take care of everything, collecting enough signatures to get you on the ballot and, possibly, enough qualifying donations for you to receive public funding. That leaves you free to listen to the messages the aliens send you through your dental work.

Here’s how the scam works. A candidate for the state Senate — let’s call her Mary Jane Sleazenoodle — is running in her party’s primary. Sleazenoodle has qualified for Clean Election money, but has no opponent, so she gets a miserly $1900 for her campaign, instead of the nearly $7750 she’d receive if she were in a contested race. So, Sleazenoodle goes to see her neighbor, an unemployed cat strangler named Hannibal Migraine. She tells him that if he’ll run against her in the primary, she’ll take care of the paperwork, and all he has to do, besides taking his meds, is tell everybody he’s campaigning on a platform of keeping the pixies out of Maine.

Sleazenoodle may also get Migraine qualified for public funding, in which case she can direct his spending to her advantage. Or she can let him rely on private money, which will leave him with no budget (anti-pixie activists are notoriously tightfisted). Either way, she’s over $5800 richer.

Another possibility: a Democrat and a Republican are facing off in a close race. The Democrat discovers a drunk in an alley and recruits him to run as a conservative independent, hoping to split the right-wing vote. Meanwhile, the Republican gets a friend’s drug-addled cousin on the ballot as the nominee of the Green Independent Party. Even though she’s incoherent most of the time, she might draw off enough liberals to tip the election to the GOP.

If the Democrat or the Republican can qualify their diversionary candidates for Clean Election money, so much the better. They can secretly pour that cash into attack ads aimed at their major-party opponents, while appearing to be above such petty tactics themselves.

Ridiculous? You bet. Fictional? Not quite.

The Lewiston Sun Journal has reported that Republican state Senate candidate Stavros Mendros of Lewiston encouraged Yvette Silva to run a write-in campaign against him in the 2004 GOP primary. Even though Silva raised only $280 and collected a total of five votes, the state Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices ruled Mendros qualified for thousands of extra dollars in public money for his “contested” primary.

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