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Mainers Protest Proposed Clean Elections Cuts
01/22/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Dozens of Mainers converged at the State House today to stand up for the state's so-called clean election system, which they say is under attack. The group Maine Citizens for Clean Elections is urging state lawmakers to reject Gov. Paul LePage's proposed $4 million budget cut to public campaign funding, and to endorse a resolution calling for a national constitutional amendment. A.J. Higgins has more.

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Mainers Protest Proposed Clean Elections Cuts Listen

Andrew Bossie

More than 50 people packed a State House reception room loaded up with piles of postcards that Maine Citizens for Clean Elections Executive Director Andrew Bossie (above at podium) says were intended to send a clear message.

"Today, we're presenting more than 11,000 postcards from Maine individuals that say we need to put people back in the driver's seat of our democracy," Bossie said.

Bossie and supporters of state's taxpayer-financed campaign program chose to launch their event on the three-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC. The ruling concluded, among other things, that corporations could accept anonymous donations to fund political advertisements.

Bossie says the decision paved the way for unlimited spending to influence elections nationally, and in Maine. In an effort to counter the effects of that court decision, communities and states are attempting to force a vote on a proposed 28th Amendment that would remove the legal personhood status from corporations, and strike the court's ruling that says that money is analogous to free speech.

Bossie wants the Maine Legislature to adopt a resolution in support of the proposed amendment.

"More than 25 towns have passed resolutions in Maine calling for a U.S. constitutional amendment on campaign finance and already we have 11 state legislatures that have urged Congress to pass a constitutional amendment, and we're hoping to make Maine the 12th state," Bossie said.

"A constitutional amendment may seem impossible -- but all amendments seemed impossible until they became reality," said Malory Shaughnessy, co-chair of the greater Portland affiliate to the National Move to Amend Coalition.

Shaughnessy says that in the last 130 years, the United States has seen the passage of court decisions that added more power and rights to corporations. Shaughnessy says when corporations achieved the status of personhood, more and more rights were accorded to them under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, culminating with a First Amendment court ruling asserting that money was equivalent to speech.

Few candidates felt the impact of that ruling in Maine more than state Sen. Geoff Gratwick, a Bangor Democrat who wound up defeating a Republican incumbent after special interest groups on both sides spent more than $500,000 to influence the outcome of the race. Although he prevailed, Gratwick says the experience shook his beliefs in the state's political system.

"The crux of the matter is that government by the people, for the people, and of the people is in danger," Gratwick said. "Our elections are in danger of no longer being democratic but rather becoming a way of concentrating the power of the very wealthy."

In addition to forcing a national vote on a new constitutional amendment, Maine Clean Elections proponent Andrew Bossie and his supporters are urging Maine lawmakers to reject a $4 million budget cut that Gov. Paul LePage has proposed for the dozens of state lawmakers and gubernatorial candidates who rely on the system for their campaigns.

"Should the governor's biennial budget be passed as currently proposed, the $4 million cut to the clean elections fund would essentially gut the program for 2014," Bossie said. "There would be absolutely - or practically - no funds to run the clean elections system for legislative or gubernatorial candidates."

Republicans had mixed reactions to Bossie's proposal, and efforts to reach Republican state Chair Rich Cebra for comment by air time were unsuccessful.

Photo by A.J. Higgins.


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