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Report: Millions in 'Leadership PAC' Money Distorting Maine's Political Process
06/07/2012   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

A new report takes aim at so-called Leadership PACs in Augusta, campaign war chests that are controlled by legislative leaders in both parties. The group Maine Citizens for Clean Elections says that over the past decade, nearly three-quarters of all money raised by leadership PACs came from only about 150 donors. The Republican-led Legislature is becoming less and less supportive of taxpayer-financed campaigns, and Democrats who control leadership PACs rely on the money to help their candidates who are being outspent.

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Report: Millions in 'Leadership PAC' Money Distor Listen

Imagine yourself as a newly-elected legislator who ran with public financing to avoid the taint of big money special interests. You've also been chosen by your peers to serve in a leadership position, and have been advised to create a leadership political action committee to help other members of your party win in the next election.

Suddenly you find yourself out soliciting contributions from all those special interests you wanted to avoid as a candidate. The clash of interests in the system has piqued the interest of so-called "clean election" activists.

"This is a problem and Maine people want to see this fixed," says Andrew Bossie, the executive director of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections. 'We released polling today as well that shows an overwhelming number of Mainers favor moving forward with campaign finance reform."

Bossie says his group is concerned about caucus PACs ran by House and Senate political parties. Bossie says about $12 million was raised and spent by these PACs over the last 10 years to influence the outcome of legislative races.

An overwhelming majority of those contributions were not of the $5 or $10 variety. Bossie says his organization's study concluded that over the past decade, about 150 contributors gave $15,000 each--or more--to legislator PACs. That amounts to just over $9 million--about 75 percent of the total take.

"There's a very small number of people, a very small number of interests, corporations, that are able to give very large sums of money to potentially have influence over the legislative process and that's wrong for a democracy," Bossie says. "A democracy needs to be in the hands of all people."

"We've been talking about these leadership PACS forever," says Lance Dutson, of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative advocacy group. Dutson says there are growing numbers of Republicans, including Gov. Paul LePage, who are seriously questioning the value of the Clean Election fund.

Some Republicans leaders are already privately talking about sponsoring a bill that would send the question of repealing the 16-year-old program back to the voters.

"There's always an impulse among people who watch this program, both among the supporters and the critics, that it can be improved," says Jonathan Wayne, who heads up election monitoring at the state Ethics Commission. His staff developed a few attempts at reform this year to counter the impact of a federal court decision that struck down matching funds for publicly-funded candidates.

"You know, the commission put forward a couple of proposals in late 2011, and neither of them were politically attractive to a majority of the Legislature," Wayne says. "But, you know, other proposals can come forward from various corners, and that's what I would expect."

But Wayne says that pending the outcome of dozens of primaries, it's fairly apparent that reliance on public funding is declining among all legislators, and Republicans in particular.

Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond says that while reforms are needed, Republicans need to realize that Mainers overwhelmingly support publicly-financed campaigns.


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