The Maine House and Senate passed L.D. 1417, a bill protecting Maine’s elections from the potential for and appearance of corruption by prohibiting direct corporate contributions to candidates. On June 17, 2021, Maine's governor signed this much-needed legislation into law.
This newly enacted law helps to ensure that candidates and elected officials answer to the people of Maine, meaning that there will be more government accountability, less influence for wealthy special interests and less political corruption.
The principal goal of L.D. 1417 is to ban direct corporate contributions to candidates and leadership political action committees (PACs), which are controlled by legislators.
It bars direct corporate contributions to committees that are authorized or controlled by candidates or officials, which heighten the risk of corruption or its appearance.
Under this legislation, leadership PACs are also subject to contribution limits, and political parties and PACs are not be permitted to use money from corporations to then make their contributions to candidates.
This effectively creates two pots of money for funding campaigns, with candidates only being able to use money given by individuals, while parties and PACs are still be able to use direct corporate contributions to fund campaign ads and other related activities.
Maine joins 23 other states in banning direct corporate contributions to candidates. Such contributions are also banned at the federal level.
There was strong support for the bill in Maine, and Maine citizens and advocacy groups came out in full support of the measure. In fact, in the public hearing on the bill, no groups voiced opposition.
In April, CLC submitted a statement with suggested amendments, and several of these were adopted in the final version of the bill approved by Maine legislators.
More broadly, CLC has supported state ballot initiatives that enable states to implement contribution limits. In 2020, a CLC-endorsed ballot initiative focused on opening the door to instating contribution limits was approved by voters in Oregon by a resounding margin.
Specifically, Oregon's Measure 107 amended Oregon’s Constitution to explicitly allow for contribution limits in state and local elections. The Oregon Supreme Court issued a ruling in 1997 that had prevented the implementation of such limits but reversed the long-standing precedent in the spring of 2020.
This change prevents future state court rulings that might roll back the availability of contribution limits. It offers a first, long overdue step toward making a campaign finance system that works for everyone in Oregon, not just the wealthy, and decreases opportunities for corruption and the appearance of corruption.
In addition to helping instate new contribution limits, CLC has also fought to protect the corporate contribution bans that some states already have in place in court.
An example of this the case New Jersey Bankers Association v. Grewal, involving a century-old New Jersey law banning contributions by banks and certain other corporations, like public utility and insurance companies.
Last year, CLC filed an amicus brief that established that the state’s prohibition on bank contributions advances core First Amendment principles by protecting New Jersey residents’ right to meaningful self-government in our democracy.
The amicus brief further argued that the prohibition is necessary given the numerous instances in recent years of federal, state and local officials bringing enforcement actions against financial services firms and professionals for giving illegal campaign contributions and kickbacks to public officials in exchange for government contracts and other benefits.
With wealthy special interests using their money to drown out the voices of voters, it is important to have corporate contribution bans that cover not only candidates but political parties and super PACs too.
Federal law already does this, and it is time for the states that do not to follow suit. These state-level corporate contribution bans would limit corporate influence, help make elected officials more responsive to their constituents and reduce political corruption.