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Commentary: Maine’s elections should not be decided by dark money, foreign governments

Should foreign governments and dark-money billionaire donors be allowed to buy our elections and stifle the voices of Maine voters?

Protect Maine Elections, which organizers are trying to get on the 2023 ballot, would stop foreign governments from spending in Maine elections; impose new public disclosure requirements on foreign entities that engage in issue advertising, and require that media companies disclose illegal spending by foreign powers. Joaquin Corbalan P/Shutterstock.com

We certainly don’t think so but, regrettably, this practice is currently permitted and running rampant in our state.

While foreign government-owned entities are prohibited from making contributions to candidate campaigns, that prohibition does not extend to referendum campaigns. Such entities are permitted to – and, in fact, do – dump millions of dollars to influence the outcomes of statewide ballot questions. Maine voters were recently given a front-row seat to one of the most egregious examples.

Hydro-Quebec, a corporation that is wholly owned by the government of Quebec, spent $22 million to influence the outcome of a recent election. That’s an obscene amount of money from a single donor, regardless of who that donor may be. It is shocking that a foreign government was permitted to funnel $22 million into a Maine election, and it must never happen again.

Should foreign governments be allowed to buy out Maine law? The answer must be a resounding no.

It isn’t just foreign governments that have an outsized influence in our elections. For far too long, dark-money donors and special interest groups have dumped billions of dollars into campaigns. In the decade that followed the 2010 Citizens United decision, the five largest donors to super PACs gave a combined $838 million to these dark-money operations. How healthy is our democracy when just a few people control so much of our political discourse?

We remain optimistic because in America we can change the system. Here in Maine, we have a long tradition of leading the way. We’re a Democratic senator and a Republican representative from different corners of the state who don’t always agree; however, we are committed to working together on a campaign to help safeguard our democracy by placing reasonable and common-sense limits on campaign spending.

We’re proud to work with a cross-partisan group of Mainers to close the loopholes that currently permit these types of campaign spending; Protect Maine Elections is working around the clock to collect the signatures required to place our citizens’ initiative on the 2023 ballot and protect Maine elections from foreign interference and dark-money billionaire donors.

The initiative would stop foreign governments from spending in Maine elections; impose new public disclosure requirements on foreign entities that engage in issue advertising, and require that media companies disclose illegal spending by foreign powers.

It affirms Maine’s support for an anti-corruption amendment to the U.S. Constitution and charges the Maine Ethics Commission to report on the bipartisan progress made by Maine’s delegation in Congress to advance this amendment. The anti-corruption amendment is a crucial step in a national strategy to ultimately overturn Citizens United and get big money out of politics. Not surprisingly, polling has shown that 73 percent of Maine voters support an anti-corruption U.S. constitutional amendment, including 55 percent of Republicans, 87 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of independents.

Over the next few months, Maine voters will surely be subjected to a constant barrage of political advertisements, many of which will be vicious and negative attacks by out-of-state special interest groups made without candidate approval. Every race is more expensive than the last, but only because these large, dark money contributions are allowed. Unlimited and unchecked spending in campaigns by billionaires, global corporations, special interests and foreign governments has diminished the voices of Maine people.

But now, we have the opportunity – the obligation – to correct this problem. There is strong bipartisan support for Protect Maine Elections. By working together, we will protect the free speech, representation and votes of all Mainers, not just wealthy donors.


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