Question 1: Another example that money in politics isn’t as important as everyone thinks

Some readers know I wasn’t the biggest fan of Question 1 on the statewide ballot yesterday, but I am not surprised it passed. I am surprised that it was so close, 55 percent for and 45 percent against, but when I thought about it, I really shouldn’t have been. Contrary to what supporters think, money in politics isn’t that pressing an issue in Maine.

Mainers are capable of making their own judgments about issues and candidates, and the campaign run by Maine Citizens for Clean Elections proves my very point. The Mainers for Accountable Elections committee raised $1.3 million dollars in a matter of a few months and spent the bulk of it ($1,287,918.75), according to Ballotpedia. Until September there was no formal opposition, and what opposition coalesced raised just under $34,000 and spent $29,078.

If money mattered in politics to the extent that MCCE claims, given the ratio of spending, the final vote should have been somewhere around 97.8 percents for and 2.2 percent against. The results aren’t close to matching the influx of donations.

You can see the imbalance. I may be poor, but even I can feel confident telling big donors that throwing money into our electoral process isn’t going to garner the political version of a great return on their investment.


In a previous post, I wrote about how more was spent in support of Rep. Mike Michaud and against Gov. Paul LePage, only to see LePage re-elected. More was spent to support the bear baiting ban in 2014, but the initiative lost. (Admittedly, from my perspective both sides over-raised and over-spent on that one.) The 2014 election cycle basically showed that large sums of outside money spent in Maine had the opposite intended effect.

While big money may not have total power over the judgment of individual voters in Maine (thank goodness), it is problematic in other ways. I don’t care how you cut it, but raising $1.3 million in a matter of a few months to spend hurriedly on a referendum question in a state as poor as ours is just too much. It’s almost disrespectful to all of us poor folk.

That’s like a dollar per Maine person. Spent on a referendum question. By a PAC whose website says it is working toward reforms that are, among other things, fiscally responsible. 

I’ve also written about how problematic the Maine lottery is, but I’m thinking we might have all been better off if MCCE just bought us all a dollar scratchy. At least a few of us would benefit immediately, and the rest of us would have benefitted indirectly from the boost to our state coffers.

Big money is also problematic because it calls the shots as to what issues matter to Mainers and how those issues are portrayed. Were it not for big money donors pushing the agenda behind this campaign, I probably wouldn’t even be writing this post or any of the posts about this question. I wouldn’t have had to do a post about how this legislation can’t actually stem the flow of outside money in Maine politics even though supporters initially said it would.

A family friend said it best: The legislation is a very expensive door where there is no wall.

Further, what billionaire George Soros and the Proteus League can’t possibly know is that this Mainer is really worried about our economy far more than I am about Clean Election funding. I’m worried more about being the one of the most regressive states in terms of business climate than I am about being one of the most progressive in terms of clean elections.

I’ve been watching our state flounder at the bottom of the Forbes business-friendliness list, watching our youth leave, and watching large employers in our rural areas depart, too.

All the while, my value as a worker in Maine has dropped. That’s why I really don’t care about what part of corporate tax code the new funding for clean elections will come from. If funding clean elections this way even gives off the perception that we are becoming less business friendly than ever, our state is in trouble.

And speaking of perceptions, my biggest gripe with big money in politics is entirely perception-based. It seems like each election cycle we collectively spend more and more on politics only to get politicians who get less and less done. I know I’m not alone in feeling disgruntled because I have heard from enough folks who have similar perceptions.

No matter who gets elected how, as one reader put it, they “continue to ignore the poor.”

My biggest gripe with the referendum question itself, though, from the start has been that it was far to complicated a piece of legislation to push through with a simple yes or no referendum question. In response to emails, I’ve even gone as far as to call it a misuse of the referendum process. And a short-sighted misuse on behalf of liberals, at that.

Should Republicans succeed in garnering the signatures necessary to put complex changes to our social safety net and our tax code together into a simple yes or no question, liberals are in trouble. They could have argued that such complexity is a misuse of the process, but after this Question 1 success, that argument is null and void. I’ll vote against the Republican proposal on that merit, just as I did this one.

And I’ll hope that whatever expensive Clean Election candidates or privately funded candidates I vote for place a priority on our economy. And after that, maybe they can work on reforming our referendum process.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

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