Most Midcoast legislative candidates choose Clean Election fundsThree of 10 local Republicans use Clean Election funding
Rockland — Maine's Clean Election Act, established in 1996 by a citizen initiative as a voluntary program to fund political campaigns, continues to help candidates get involved for political office for governor and the Legislature, according to several candidates.
The two candidates for the Senate seat that covers Knox County said that not having to go out and ask people for campaign money leaves them time to focus on the issues of their districts. Others said the Clean Election program encourages more public participation in elected politics.
Those who decide to participate begin by accepting seed money of $5 donations and agree not to accept large contributions from outside sources. The idea behind the seed money is to show community support for a candidate, according to the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics & Election Practices website.
Clean Election candidates have gone from 33 percent participation in 2000 to 77 percent in 2010.
In 2010, 89 percent of the Democratic candidates for the Maine House were Clean Election candidates, compared to 68 percent of House Republican candidates. In races for the Senate, 82 percent of Democratic candidates and 94 percent of Republican candidates used Clean Election funding.
In this year's race for the Maine House of Representatives and Senate, candidates from the Midcoast mostly follow party lines when choosing whether to use Clean Election funding.
All nine Democrats in the races in the region signed up for Clean Election funding. The Democratic candidates are Ed Mazurek, Joan Welsh, Chuck Kruger, Walter Kumiega, Chris Johnson, Elizabeth Dickerson, Lloyd Chase, Joel Pitcher and Elizabeth Miller.
Three Republicans out of 10 have declared themselves to be Maine Clean Election Act candidates. They are Chris Rector, Jethro Pease and Carole Gartley.
The privately financed Republican candidates are Leslie Fossel, Gordon Mank Jr., Michael Collins, Robert Carter, Ellen Winchenbach, Deborah Sanderson and Kim Strauss.
Independent Jeff Evangelos is also running as a privately financed candidate.
The rules are stringent for public funding, according to Paul Lavin, executive director of Maine Governmental Ethics & Election Practices.
Most importantly, if a candidate seeks Clean Election money, then he or she may not solicit funds from private donors. In addition, there is a cap on how much money a Clean Election candidate may spend.
Prospective senators may spend more than House candidates, and candidates facing opposition may spend more than unopposed candidates.
On the other hand, candidates who declare themselves privately financed may spend as much as their pocketbooks will bear.
Those amounts range from $25 in sole-support for Michael D. Collins of Thomaston, to more than $5,323 for Deborah J. Sanderson of Chelsea, an experienced candidate with many supporters.
A candidate running for the state Senate, for example, is limited to $7,359 in a primary and $18,124 in the general election, provided the candidate has an opponent.
An unopposed candidate for the Senate must keep to a limit of $1,831 in a primary and $5,981 in the general.
Candidates for the House are limited to $1,429 in a primary and $3,937 in the general for a contested race.
In the race for Senate District 22, for example, incumbent Chris Rector, R-Thomaston, shows a campaign fund of $21,445.
His opponent, State Rep. Ed Mazurek, D-Rockland, who is leaving the House because of term limits, has $21,204 in his campaign coffers in his bid for the Senate.
"It allows candidates without a lot of personal money to become active in the political scene," said Mazurek.
He also believes that as a candidate he can say what he believes without having to be beholden to a wealthy donor.
Rector said he thinks the Clean Election Act lowers campaign expenditures in general. "In that way, it's beneficial," he said.
He believes there is a philosophic difference between candidates who are privately financed and those who sign up for Clean Election funds. "There are those who don't believe in spending public money on campaigns," he said. "They would rather see their money spent in a different way."
"I'm trying to balance my business life and my family life with my political life," he said. "It allows me not to have me spending time raising funds."
State Rep. Chuck Kruger, D-Thomaston, said he believes the Clean Election Act works better at the House and Senate levels than in statewide races, such as the race for governor.
"So much money is spent in a statewide race," he said. Since 2002, Clean Election candidates for governor have been Republican James Libby and Green candidate Jonathan Carter in 2002; Republican Peter Mills, Independent Barbara Merrill, Republican Chandler Woodcock and Green candidate Pat LaMarch in 2006; and Democrat Patrick McGowan, Mills and Democrat Elizabeth Mitchell in 2010.
In 2010, payments to Clean Election candidates totaled $6,300,780.
Money for the program is appropriated by the Legislature and monitored by the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics & Election.
There have been abuses, such as those that occur at the seed money level. In one York County town, workers for a candidate took names from the local cemetery, turned them in as money orders, only to be recognized by an alert town clerk who had known many of the deceased.
Kruger said any campaign money that is not spent has to go back to Augusta.
"It's really a partial solution to more activity in politics in general," Kruger said. "I can concentrate on thinking about what's best for the district."
Courier Publications reporter George Chappell can be reached at 594-4401, ext. 117, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.