‘Greens No Longer Clean’

DownEast.com has an interesting analysis of Maine Green Party gubernatorial candidate Lynne Williams’ decision to not go for public campaign financing.  The Green Party has traditionally done very well in Maine and accepted public financing, and third parties are expected to do well this year in the gubernatorial race, although some recent changes in ballot access and campaign finance law – as well as a few other factors – have changed this.

Despite being a candidate for more than a year, by January Williams had raised only about $10,000 in $100 seed money contributions, only 1/4 of what’s now needed to qualify for public financing. She had also spent more than $11,000, putting her campaign into debt…

“Basically, the Legislature said that in order to avoid the influence of private money, we have to raise private money. It makes no sense.”

Williams and other Greens opposed the changes to the law at the time they were made, but in a written interview with Augusta Insider published more than a month after the new law was passed, she explicitly ruled out ever making the kind of switch she has just announced…

Obviously, Williams had been banking on clean elections funds and had been spending her current contributions (and more) attempting to clear the $40,000 bar. She’ll now have to retool for a privately-financed run.

Some of the donors who gave $100 contributions might be convinced to give more, and without a primary she has plenty of time to raise money before the General Election, but she’ll still almost certainly be at a huge financial disadvantage compared to her opponents. Even if every one of her donors so far gave the campaign an extra $650 right now, an unlikely scenario, she’d still have less than $100,000 in the bank…

The biggest impact this change may have, however, may be on the future of the Maine Clean Elections Act itself. Williams’ campaign could end up being a martyr for the cause of keeping the act true to its original principles.

If one of Maine’s three recognized parties can’t even come close to meeting the conditions of the act, how can it be meeting the expectations for open and fair elections that Maine voters had when they enacted it in 1996. At the very least, Williams’ example is a powerful argument for reducing the seed money contribution requirement.

One thing Williams’ diminished resources won’t mean is the end of the Maine Green Independent Party.

The legislature passed a law at the same time as the MCEA changes which makes it more likely that the party will maintain its official status. Instead of garnering 5% of the vote in a gubernatorial or presidential election, the Greens now only have to get 10,000 of their members to vote in a general election once every four years, ostensibly a much easier task.

5 thoughts on “‘Greens No Longer Clean’

  1. Mike Indiana

    Ross,

    The title of the post is very deceiving! It’s not like she said she was taking PAC money or something, come on! Plus how does this make the whole party unclean “Greens No Longer Clean”. The title of the post needs to be changed to something that actually has to do with the content of the post. Something like “Williams campaign rejects clean election funding”.

  2. John Anthony La Pietra

    The higher the threshold is, the more likely it becomes a barrier to newer parties and an advantage for older more established parties. That’s one big problem with the bills now in Congress — HR1826(/S752?) and HR2056.

    Rather than one big chunk of money (or sometimes two for the Rs & Ds) and a high threshold, it would be better to have a system of proportional or matching public funding — either right from the start or after the candidate reaches a low threshold, such as the minimum amount raised to qualify as an official candidate or to be required to report donations and expenditures.

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