2018-02-08 / Editorial

Beyond the Headlines

Being ‘Clean’ is important
by Sen. Justin Chenette

I talk often about the need to reduce big money interests in our politics and in our government, but Maine is actually one of just a handful of states that has a mechanism limiting outside money in legislative races.

It’s aptly named the Maine Clean Election system.

This was enacted by clear majorities at the ballot box by Maine voters not once, but twice. The first to start the program and most recently in the last few years to expand the program.

Under the system, candidates are required to collect small contributions, of exactly $5, from a number of individuals only from their district to demonstrate that he or she has enough public support to warrant the funding of his or her campaign. In the case of Senate candidates, it’s at least 175 qualifying contributions. In return, the Ethics Commission provides candidates a sum of money to be used throughout the duration of the campaign.

This achieves a number of important things for our democratic society. Number one, it enables anyone to run for office. No longer is your socio-economic status a barrier to public service. Wealth isn’t a pre-requisite to running. This means a teacher can run for office. A grocery store manager can run. A student can run. You name it. It truly gets to the essence of our part time legislative system we have in Maine. Our state history demonstrates a commitment to having a citizen Legislature and the Clean Election system ensures a pipeline of individuals to fill it.

If it wasn’t for the Clean Election system, I wouldn’t be able to run for office for instance. When I ran for the House, I wasn’t well-connected nor did I have a rolodex of contacts to fundraise from. The same can be said for many other young legislators and legislative candidates I talk to. Many of them were in a similar boat. Not independently wealthy to self-fund their campaigns and not connected enough to fundraise large sums of money.

The next and maybe the most ethical impact in our politics, is the limiting of outside influences. No Political Action Committee or corporate donations are allowed. In fact, even the $5 donations have to be individuals specifically in the legislative district. You won’t ever hear someone say they are unduly influenced by a $5 donation, but the roles are reversed if someone is giving you nearly $1,000. On top of that if the candidate also runs a PAC, unlimited amounts of money can flow to the candidate. Luckily, reforms I pushed for that ultimately became law and has banned Clean Election candidates from operating PACs on the side.

Having gone through this a few times now, I can tell you it does take some time to collect so many $5 checks/ donations, but once completed candidates can focus on what matters most, talking about the issues and meeting voters. The substance over the soundbites. Those that privately fundraise, spend so much time cultivating donors, throwing paid events/parties, and fundraising, that the honest-to-good campaigning, the one-on-one conversations, get sidelined.

There are good candidates on both sides of the political aisle that utilize this system. In fact, we’ve seen at it’s height about two-thirds of legislative candidates choosing the Clean Election path. While both Democrats and Republicans run clean, Republicans constantly push to defund the program. Ironically, one of the Republican candidates running for governor this year as a Clean Election candidate, was hypocritically one of its fiercest critics in the Legislature.

You can view who is running as a Clean Election candidate using this link: www.maine.gov/cleanelections. I would encourage folks to not only support Clean Election candidates and ask why their candidate may not be running clean, but also to contribute a $5 contribution so that your candidate can qualify.

Justin Chenette is serving his first term as the youngest senator in the Maine Senate representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington and Buxton. He previously served two terms in the Maine House of Representatives. Outside the Legislature, he is the owner of Chenette Media LLC, a marketing & public relations firm, works as the marketing coordinator of Saco Sport & Fitness, and is the president of Saco Main Street. Sign up for legislative updates at www.justinchenette.com or www.Facebook/JustinChenette.

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