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Getting Clean in Maine

The Power of Public Funding
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State of MaineIn 2003, when Gov. John Baldacci proposed that the Maine legislature pass the Dirigo health care law, which would provide near-universal health care coverage for Mainers, a majority of legislators had won their offices under a system known as Clean Elections.

Clean Elections candidates collected a set number of $5 contributions from individuals, then received public funding to run their campaigns. At the same time, they had to promise to take no more private money.

No private money meant no campaign contributions from hospitals, or insurers, or from any other big-money interest that might want to scuttle the Dirigo plan. “Publicly funded legislators were free to support this legislation without any concern for the big-money special interests that might oppose such a law,” wrote Rep. Jim Annis, a Republican, and Rep. John Brautigam, a Democrat, in a piece for the Hartford Courant in October 2005.

The citizens of Maine approved Clean Elections via referendum in 1996, and the law went into effect in 2000. It has been increasingly popular among candidates—80 percent of them are running Clean in the 2006 elections. The system helps level the playing field so qualified people without access to special interest money can run for—and win— office. Similar laws are in place for some offices in Arizona, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Vermont, and in Albuquerque, and Portland, Oregon. “Clean Elections makes a huge difference,” says Tammy Greaton, executive director of the Maine People's Alliance, one of the groups that pushed to pass the Dirigo health care law. “[The legislators] listen to people when they show up. They ignore lobbyists more than I've ever seen.”

Nancy Watzman is research and investigative director for Public Campaign, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to reducing the role of special-interest money in American politics, and co-author of Is That a Politician in Your Pocket? Washington on $2 Million a Day (Wiley Books 2004).

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