If we can’t limit political spending, could we at least tax it?

I’m a Marden’s girl. My mom discovered the Waterville stores shortly after we moved to Maine in the 70’s. I’ve been a Marden’s girl for so long now, I’m now a Marden’s middle-aged woman.

My children know it’s a given:  if some clothing item is needed when there’s no holiday or birthday nearby that would enable recruiting a grandparent, the shopping search starts at Marden’s.

It’s so ingrained into the fiber of my shopping being that if a million dollars landed in my bank account tomorrow, and I needed to replace my boots the next day, I’d still start at Marden’s.  I know you’re thinking that’s total hyperbole, but picture everyone who knows me well, standing behind me, shaking their heads and saying, “She’s not kidding. She’s pathetically cheap.”

I’m speculating that I’m not alone in my sensibility. It’s one of the big differences I’ve noticed between Mainers and the folks who like to come to Maine to spend their money. Those folks brag about how much they spent on this item or that property — Mainers brag about how much they saved.

Like the time I scored a pair of Teva sandals at Marden’s for only $19.99.

So it’s hard to wrap my Marden’s mind around the millions of dollars spent in Maine on the 2016 election cycle.

Stock photo

Stock photo

Skimming through the numbers offered by the website ballotpedia.com (current as of 10/25/16),  roughly $13 1/2 million was spent in support of five 2016 referenda. (The hyperlink I provided connects to a page summarizing the various questions and includes hyperlinks to pages summarizing each one.) The total referenda spending goes up to roughly $15 million if you include opposition.

Toss in the over $15 million spent by the two candidates and their supporters in the House race in Congressional District 2, and that equals five Steve Austins — for anyone old enough to remember The Bionic Man.

Roughly $30 million spent to influence the thinking of less than one million voting eligible people on six votes in one election cycle. In one state. With one of the worst economies in the country. Where almost one in four children experience food insecurity. Food insecurity means three meals a day/seven days a week is an aspiration not a norm.

Maine’s a state where people are dying from drug overdoses in record numbers and treatment beds/programs are hard to come by. Maine’s a state where $30 million could see quite a return on the investment were it invested in something useful; and right now, politics/politicians don’t seem very useful.

Since the Supreme Court has decided we can’t limit political spending until Congress changes the law, maybe we could find some way to tax it. You know, find a way for the state to get a piece of the action. Maybe we could call it a political action service fee or something.

For example, if there was a 10% service fee on political donations this year, Maine could have collected $225,000 dollars from the National Education Association alone, due to their support of Question 2, which proposed an income-based surcharge to fund education.

These fees could go into a slush fund that would more than cover the cost of statewide recounts, like the estimated $500,000 that might be spent on the recounts for Questions 1 and 2, should the recounts go the full process.

I say “might be spent” because Kristen Muszynski at the Secretary of State’s office told me “it’s rare for a statewide recount to go all the way to counting every single town,” which would be 503. She explained that the estimate is a worst case scenario should the process go all the way to recounting every single ballot cast in Maine.

After covering recount costs, whatever they may be, any leftover monies in a hypothetical political action service fee slush fund could be dedicated to issues in pressing need of funding — things like programs that address our hunger and addiction epidemics, homeless shelters, venture capital for business start-ups and blighted property acquisition, expanded hi-speed internet access, bolstered school programming in our poorer communities, etc.

Or, at the absolute least, we could convert the leftover funds to Marden’s gift cards to hand out instead of “I voted today” stickers.  Let’s see … 10 percent of $30 million … that’s roughly a $3.00 Marden’s gift card for every eligible voter.  I’d take it — I’ve bought shirts off their clearance rack for less.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

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