The attack by Rep. Larry Lockman on Maine’s Clean Election law published in The Ellsworth American on July 19 was so distorted and downright dishonest it demands a blunt response in plain English.
Lockman clearly disagrees with the Clean Election law. That is his right. Nevertheless, he has an obligation to be honest in his role as a member of the Maine House, and he failed that test.
The Clean Election process, approved by Maine’s voters in 1996 and again in 2015, is a nationally recognized direct effort to keep special interest money out of our politics. Candidates for the Maine Legislature may run “clean” or “traditional.” “Clean” candidates give up the opportunity to fund their campaigns with special interest and dark money, and must gather $5 donations to the Clean Election fund in order to receive Clean Election funding. That is harder than it seems, but it assures that getting elected doesn’t depend on using tainted money.
Traditionally financed candidates can raise campaign funds from all sorts of contributors, many of whom expect things in return. In Lockman’s case, he has accepted donations from “ABC PAC” and “Dirigo PAC,” among others. Really? Who knows what’s behind that money and what is expected. That is precisely why Mainers voted for and continue to support the Clean Election option.
If Lockman’s actions stopped with opposition to Clean Elections, that’s at least an honest disagreement about policy and values, and out of step with the majority of Mainers. However, Lockman’s attack on Clean Elections hid his dishonest recent actions to blow up that system in the middle of an election.
The Legislature fully funded Clean Elections for the 2018 elections. A simple typo was made in the law setting the deadline for the Ethics Commission to disburse funds to 2018 candidates. Lockman concedes it was a “drafting error.” Normally, such a human error would be fixed with a simple, noncontroversial bill. But Lockman and most of his House Republican colleagues don’t have the guts to separate their opposition to Clean Elections from their shadowy votes to refuse to fix a simple typo. They are using their minority status to block the normal, bipartisan process of correcting such errors to advance their own selfish interest.
Knowing that Clean Elections was fully funded for the 2018 elections, most legislative candidates opted to be Clean Election candidates. They did so with the belief they were pursuing a widely praised way to campaign while avoiding special interest and dark money. Because Lockman and his House Republican colleagues have changed the rules in the middle of the game, these Clean Election candidates find themselves caught in a horrible bind. They can’t obtain sufficient funds to run effective campaigns against the likes of Lockman because Clean Elections funds are cut off, and they can’t revert to traditional fundraising because they started as Clean Election candidates. Lockman and his colleagues (including Hancock County’s Rich Malaby and Karl Ward) have used an underhanded means to disadvantage their own election opponents.
The voters are the biggest losers of this disgrace, because the actions of a minority in the middle of an election cycle have seriously tilted the playing field. Lockman claims to “put Maine people first, ahead of the lobbyists and assorted special interests.” To the contrary, he is preserving his ability to collect campaign dollars from such sources while cutting off the voter-preferred option that avoids those conflicts.
Despite Lockman’s words, this isn’t about principle. Lockman isn’t content to vote against the Clean Election system itself. Instead, he relies on a grossly unfair tactic to get his way. That’s why he needs to be called out. Get some courage and find some decency, Larry. You too, Rich and Karl.