AUGUSTA – A Superior Court judge affirmed an earlier ruling of the state ethics commission Friday and concluded that two of Maine’s three publicly funded gubernatorial candidates were not entitled to matching campaign funds as the result of independent expenditures.
Pat LaMarche, the Green Independent gubernatorial candidate, had appealed a 4-1 decision by the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices which denied her additional public funding to offset spending by outside groups for the Democratic and Republican candidates.
LaMarche was objecting to the ads that were paid for by the Republican Governors Association and the Maine Democratic Party to promote Democratic Gov. John Baldacci and Republican candidate Chandler Woodcock.
The ethics commission’s decision centered on state rules that say outside advertising more than 21 days before an election will trigger matching funds for publicly funded candidates if the ads “expressly advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate.”
LaMarche said she received a copy of Superior Court Justice S. Kirk Studstrup’s ruling shortly before the Kennebec County Superior Court closed Friday afternoon. The Blaine House hopeful said she would appeal the justice’s ruling to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court and request an expedited schedule.
“You know this isn’t about the money,” LaMarche insisted Friday. “I don’t want the extra thousands of dollars that the RGA spent on Chandler. I want Chandler to give that money back. He promised to run as a clean candidate, and when you’re accepting that kind of money from third parties, that’s not running clean.”
LaMarche said Studstrup concluded that to label the ads in question as express advocacy would be a curtailment of Woodcock’s free speech.
“The only free speech that’s being curtailed around here is ours because we’re not being allowed to speak back when that special interest money blows into town,” she said. “It’s really a corruption of the Clean Elections Act. Even a 7-year-old would be able to figure out who those ads are supposed to benefit.”
Meanwhile, the three publicly funded candidates for governor were each nearly $200,000 richer this week after the state ethics commission ruled they were entitled to matching funds for their campaigns under Maine’s Clean Elections Act.
Jonathan Wayne, executive director for the ethics commission, said Friday that Woodcock, LaMarche and independent candidate Barbara Merrill were each sent checks of $198,000 on Tuesday.
The disbursements were triggered by political ads paid for by Democratic Gov. John E. Baldacci’s privately funded campaign and also by independent expenditures made by third parties. In this instance, it was a little more than $90,000 spent on Baldacci’s behalf by the Maine Democratic Party after the 21-day threshold.
Wayne said that as of Tuesday political ads that featured a candidate for state office would count as an independent expenditure and could trigger matching funds for publicly funded candidates.
“The ads don’t even have to expressly advocate for the candidate,” Wayne said. “If they have any literature or advertisement that just mentions a gubernatorial candidate or pictures them, it is presumed to be an independent expenditure.”
All three gubernatorial candidates began their general election campaigns with $400,000 and had already received an additional $50,000 after Baldacci’s campaign fund-raising crossed the $404,000 threshold. Under the state’s Clean Elections law, each of the three publicly funded candidates is entitled to up to $1.2 million for their campaigns and they’ve already received about half of that amount.