As we move toward the 2014 Maine legislative contests, many individuals who desire to serve our state on both sides of the aisle will decide to run as clean elections candidates. Maine’s public funding of elections aims at leveling the playing field against special interests in state House and Senate elections, allowing genuine grassroots candidates to come forward, letting aspirants for office talk issues not cash collections, and increasing citizen confidence that their concerns are being truly openly addressed in campaigns.
It is also the season when some beholden to outside cash collecting attack clean elections funding by calling it “welfare for politicians” while bankrolling their own campaigns with private funds that despite any disclaimer carry quid pro quo implications. Make no mistake, politicians that resort to such slurs will move to gut or kill clean election funding if elected when the first opportunity arises.
Public financing of elections needs to take place in times when the state is flush with funds and also in lean years to meet the goals of clean elections. Reducing moneyed interests or privately funded campaign machine advantages to give wider opportunity for non-wealthy voices and non-financially connected office seekers to address the issues that affect our lives is not a luxury. Clean election funding is about protecting our democracy from unspoken quid pro quo expectations and providing equal access to the electoral processes. It is about leveling the playing field for all candidates of all parties and ensuring we have everyday citizens’ voices in our citizen legislature.
Maine has built a clean election model to be proud of with extremely broad popular support and it is an essential service to Maine’s citizens that deserves to be protected in concert with many other essential services. We should be proud that we have had a large number of clean election candidates committing themselves to the reduction of money interests in our state’s history during this law. However, we acutely and especially need public financing in lean times to protect our elections from being bought during moments of economic weakness. Lean times are prime times for threats to democracy.