Legislature kills proposal to prevent lobbyist contributions to lawmakers
AUGUSTA — Maine lawmakers have killed a proposal to ban legislators, the governor and Constitutional officers — and candidates for those positions — from accepting donations from lobbyists.
The bill, titled An Act To Limit the Influence of Lobbyists by Expanding the Prohibition on Accepting Political Contributions, was defeated in both the Maine Senate and House on May 24 and 25, respectively. Members of both parties, in both chambers, voted against the measure.
Sen. Justin Chenette (D-Saco), who sponsored the bill, said he was disappointed though not surprised by the outcome. Both Republicans and Democrats, he said, receive money from lobbyists who are attempting to influence their votes.
“There’s really not a lot of incentive to mutually disarm,” Chenette said. “Because both parties play into a broken system, because they both play the big-money game, there is little to no accountability.”
State law already prohibits lawmakers from accepting donations from lobbyists during the legislative session, but Chenette’s bill would have made the ban year-round.
In testimony in favor of the bill, Andrew Bossie, executive director of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, an advocacy group, said lobbyists play an important role in government — but that allowing them to make financial contributions to candidates left recipients with a sense of “financial indebtedness” that could work against the public interest.
“We don’t object to lobbying,” Bossie said. “We do have a problem, however, when lobbying gets intertwined with financial contributions.”
At least five other states have laws banning contributions from lobbyists. But those who testified against the bill said Chenette’s measure unfairly prevented lobbyists from partaking in the political process in the same way as their fellow citizens.
“I believe that a person should be able to participate in the political process and contribute to candidates…and not be restricted due to their status as a registered lobbyist,” wrote Alex Titcomb, of West Gardiner, in testimony filed with the legislature.
In March, the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting (now Pine Tree Watch) showed that lobbyists and legislators have found ways to legally undermine the spirit of laws limiting lobbyist influence, giving private interests continued opportunities to spread their money around the statehouse.
The problem isn’t going away, Chenette said — and neither are his efforts to reform the state’s campaign-finance system.
“I view this as a long-term fight.”
Dave Sherwood is a staff reporter for Pine Tree Watch, a nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news service focused on Maine state government and institutions. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web: www.pinetreewatch.org.