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Big Increase in Public Financing of Legislative Races
Published on Wednesday, May 29, 2002 by the Associated Press
Big Increase in Public Financing of Legislative Races
by Glenn Adams
 

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) More than 200 candidates had qualified as of Tuesday for public financing in advance of next month's primaries for Maine legislative seats, nearly double the figure two years ago.

The state Ethics Commission said it had certified 156 House of Representatives candidates and 48 Senate candidates for public campaign funding under Maine's Clean Election law.

The 204 party candidates do not include several unenrolled, or independent, candidates who also have qualified. The total certified as of Tuesday stood at about 210, according to Ethics Commission figures.

The total approaches a doubling of the 115 candidates who qualified for Clean Election funding before legislative primaries in 2000, the first year for voter-approved public financing in Maine.

Candidates qualify by agreeing to forego most private donations and collecting $5 contributions from a fixed number of supporters.

The surge in certifications was greeted as a positive development by the Maine Citizen Leadership Fund, which said the increase will help to dry up the flow of private and special interest money into legislative campaigns.

The effect will be to break a direct link between candidates and special interest groups, said Doug Clopp of the MCLF in Portland.

Critics say public financing systems like Maine's don't keep special interest money out of elections, but simply alter its path to influence voters.

Publicly financed candidates who win their June 11 primaries are also eligible to receive public funds for their November general election campaigns.

Money to fund Clean Election candidates comes from a state interest-bearing account that now stands at roughly $8 million. Ethics Commission Executive Director William Hain said he expects $2 million to $3 million to be spent on publicly funded candidates during the 2002 election cycle, but the final figure could be influenced by many factors.

Two years ago, 115 of the 374 legislative primary candidates were certified for public financing. Nearly half of the senators who were seated and a quarter of the House members had used public funds. The Legislature has 186 seats.

The Citizen Leadership Fund predicts the percentages will increase sharply when the next Legislature is seated in December, perhaps to 75 percent of the Senate and half of the House, Clopp said.

The numbers for this year's primary races remain subject to change in the weeks and months ahead. While some publicly financed candidates will lose their primaries or withdraw, more independents could win certification.

In addition, candidates who replace those who withdraw from races will get 30-day periods to earn Clean Election eligibility.

The 2002 elections are Maine's first in which gubernatorial candidates can also seek public financing. Jim Libby, who faces a Republican primary against Peter Cianchette, has won certification.

Jonathan Carter, who is unopposed in the Green party's primary for governor, has also qualified.

Two independent candidates for governor, John Michael, a state representative from Auburn, and John Jenkins of Lewiston, a former Democratic state senator, are trying to meet a June 3 deadline to meet qualifications for Clean funding.

Clean Election certification could make gubernatorial candidates with primary and general election opponents eligible for more than $1 million in funding.

Senate candidates can qualify for more than $52,000 in contested general elections, and House candidates can qualify for nearly $13,000 in contested general elections. Uncontested candidates get smaller distributions in uncontested races.

Copyright 2002 The Associated Press

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