The tricks and treats of Question 1

Is Question 1 on the Nov. 3 ballot a trick or a treat? It depends on how you look at it. The folks at Maine Citizens for Clean Elections bill it as a way to limit the influence of big money in politics. And that sounds good, like a treat.

I mean, other than the few holding the “big money” wallets, who doesn’t want to limit the influence of big money in politics?

The irony is that Maine Citizens for Clean Elections is funding the campaign with big money from the likes of a super PAC linked to George Soros to get its message out. Hidden in that irony is a trick: Nothing in the proposed legislation limits how much Soros or any other out-of-state billionaire can spend in Maine on our elections.

Nothing. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s liberal big money or conservative big money, Question 1 doesn’t limit it. It just says top donors have to be disclosed, and it ups financial penalties for violations.

The proposed legislation does bolster the Clean Election fund and increases individual campaign allotments, and this too sounds good. However, nothing in the legislations limits how much Super PACS can spend supporting a Clean Elections candidate independent of the campaign. Which is a treat to candidates, right or left.

Stock photo

Stock photo

They can get Clean Election funding turbo boosted by the likes of Soros or whatever big money player finds the candidate favorable.

But it’s a trick for workers, for taxpayers and for the future of Maine. The bolstering of the fund is supposed to come from changes to corporate tax code — ambiguous, open-ended changes to little-studied or understood tax breaks. It’s just the kind of thing that helps an economically floundering, geographically remote state rank 48th on Forbes’ list for business friendliness.

“Dear corporations: Please come to our state to set up shop. We have higher energy and transportation costs, and we expect corporations to finance our elections, but the quality of life rocks! That is, as long as you don’t look too closely at the high rates of poverty in the wake of manufacturing jobs and our youth leaving our state because of our unfriendly business climate. Sincerely, Maine.”

It’s a trick that will keep on tricking, too.

Financing the Clean Election fund in the wake of the Citizens United decision is going to be costly. Until Citizens United is addressed in Congress or the Supreme Court, clean elections will only get more and more costly because, in theory, the allotment is meant to compete with the influence of outside money, which continues to grow in the wake of the decision.

The proposed legislation offers no suggestion on how to continue financing the fund in the future. If current proposed allotments are to be funded from ambiguous changes to little-understood corporate tax code, where will the inevitable future increases come from? Corporations considering moving to Maine? Small businesses that grow into a corporate structure?

The already contentious General Fund?

Don’t be fooled by supporters saying the proposal has bipartisan support. Or by the fact that the governor and his predecessor, Gov. John Baldacci, have come out against it, and, therefore, a yes vote is warranted. A desire to disagree with either of these gentlemen is understandable.

But Question 1 is the apple your mom used to make you throw away, liberal moms and conservative moms alike. It looks good on the outside, but who knows what could be in there when you bite into it. And, as I’ve written before, the $1.3 million raised by supporters to provide voters with this one questionable apple could have been far better spent developing orchards throughout our state.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.