Playing the angel

Politics and other mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  October 27, 2008

David Emery is right. For the wrong reasons.

Emery, the former congressman and current Republican candidate for governor (in his TV spots, he’s the goofy-looking guy standing next to Ronald Reagan), issued a news release recently in which he attacked his opponents in the GOP primary for accepting “welfare for politicians.” He claimed the $200,000 apiece that state senators Chandler Woodcock and Peter Mills will be receiving from the Maine Clean Election Fund for their campaigns could be better spent on college scholarships, food stamps, or low-income heating assistance.

“When people ask me what programs I would cut to bring our budget back in line,” wrote Emery, “taxpayer funding of gubernatorial campaigns is near the top of my list.”

Emery’s correct. Public campaign financing is a luxury the state can’t afford.

But his aversion to Clean Election money is recent and seems to be more a matter of convenience than conviction.

Last July, Emery wrote to the state ethics commission, which oversees public financing. There’s no mention in that letter of his concerns about draining the heating tanks of the poor, snatching food from the mouths of the underprivileged, or denying educational opportunities to the indigent. Instead, Emery wanted to know whether he could reimburse himself with public money for out-of-state travel, whether he could use Clean Election money to hire a polling firm he owns, and whether he could operate a political action committee to fund his campaign before qualifying for taxpayer bucks.

Emery wasn’t happy with the answers (maybe, possibly, and probably not) and decided it would be easier to run as a privately funded candidate. His decision to forego public financing was a practical matter, not some principled stand. To make it seem otherwise calls his credibility into question.

It also raises this question: Will Emery be campaigning with the dozens of Republican legislative candidates who’ve qualified for Clean Election funding? Because it’s usually the Democrats who mingle with welfare recipients.

Show your bones
Maine’s congressional delegation is famous for its fiscal responsibility. In much the same way Maine is famous for its palm trees.

When it comes to federal pork, our elected officials say one thing:

“I believe it is imperative that Congress exert fiscal discipline to rein in our skyrocketing deficits.” (Republican US Senator Olympia Snowe, Bangor Daily News, March 15, 2004)

“Some of my friends would say I’m overly frugal.” (Republican US Senator Susan Collins, Bangor Daily News, November 30, 2005)

“[The Bush administration’s] policies have taken us from record surpluses to record deficits, from fiscal restraint to budgetary recklessness.” (Democratic US Representative Tom Allen, Portland Press Herald, February 7, 2006)

“[Bush’s budget] goes against everything that those of us who have fought for balanced budgets for so many years believe in.” (Democratic US Representative Mike Michaud, press release, March, 2006)

And then, they do something completely different.

According to the watchdog group, Citizens Against Government Waste, Maine’s delegation is responsible for $37,412,000 in budget bloat this year. That’s the amount of spending Snowe, Allen, and associates managed to insert into appropriation bills without going through the usual budget process.

In other words, it’s pork.

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