Nothing is more pathetic than the sight of destitute gubernatorial candidates scrounging through trash receptacles for returnable bottles and cans, sleeping in shelters and eating in charity food kitchens.
Unless, of course, the politician doing these things is former Green Independent candidate Pat LaMarche, who once stayed in shelters to publicize the plight of the homeless. And to write a book. If you stumble across LaMarche sleeping in a refrigerator crate, she’s probably just researching her next bestseller, while she waits for that phone call telling her she’s landed another high-paying corporate gig as the spokeswoman for a casino developer or a nuclear waste dump or something.
But LaMarche is in a category all by herself (unpopular left-wing sell-outs with serious credibility issues). Other Blaine House hopefuls would be far less adept at faking poverty.
Can you imagine Republican Peter Mills begging for spare change on a street corner? (“This is not a simple matter of whether to aid me in my hour of destitution. It’s actually a complex series of interlocking issues impacting not only me, but nearly every person in Maine and the entire nation. Let me just demonstrate using this chart …”) Can you see Democrat Steve Rowe rushing up to cars at stop lights and attempting to wipe their windshields with a filthy rag? (“I do this not to alleviate the scourge of poverty that has beset my campaign, but to call attention to the plight of America’s children, to those without affordable health care, to those seeking redress from the courts, to those …”) Or how about soon-to-be-independent Peter Vigue, dressed in the tattered remains of the tailored suit he once wore to Cianbro Corp. board meetings, dumpster-diving for lunch in an alley behind a fancy restaurant, while mumbling to himself? (“I never should have laid myself off. Never should have. Never, never, never …”)
These examples are fictional. But just barely. Unless the Legislature takes firm and immediate action, it’s not only possible, but likely that one or more of the 2010 crop of gubernatorial hopefuls will be forced to stand by the side of some busy downtown street holding a sign that reads, “Will blather on about my incomprehensible economic stimulus plan for food.”
Is that something you want your children to see?
I thought not.
Fortunately, the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices (GEEP – although, nobody at this organization ever uses this catchy acronym, possibly because it evokes comparisons with a well-known automotive brand produced by a nearly bankrupt American car company) voted unanimously on Dec. 29 to ask lawmakers to protect our potential governors from penury.
GEEP wants to change the Maine Clean Election Act – that’s the statute that provides qualified gubernatorial hopefuls with as much as a million bucks each in public money to run their campaigns – to allow candidates to raise more private money. A lot more private money.
No, wait, I must have that wrong. Why would a commission committed to ethical election practices support increasing the influence of hedge-fund managers, lobbyists, bankers and people hoping to be appointed to any U.S. Senate vacancies that might occur by allowing them to contribute three times as much cash as before? The whole idea of the Clean Election Fund is to minimize the intrusion of these undesirable types by preventing them from purchasing the favors of publicly funded candidates.
It’s completely counterintuitive to believe the protectors of proper politicking would support increasing the amount of unclean money a candidate can collect from $50,000 to $150,000.
I’m sure I’m mistaken. But to make certain, let’s check in with Walter McKee, one of the GEEP commissioners who carefully considered the expanded-donation plan.
According to a story in the Lewiston Sun Journal, McKee said, “I wonder whether [$150,000] even would be enough.”
Must be a typo.
While $150,000 wouldn’t be sufficient to buy off the likes of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, plenty of local pols have sold the shriveled remains of their souls for a lot less. In much of Maine, that kind of cash comes to five years’ average income. (At least it does if you only count the income that ends up on the books.) It’s almost as much as Pat LaMarche makes fronting for out-of-state developers.
Apparently, GEEP believes this change is necessary, because publicly funded candidates don’t gain access to their taxpayer dollars until about seven weeks before the primary election. By then, they’re at a serious financial disadvantage, since their privately funded opponents have already gotten sleazy with the easy money from the sorts of people Pat LaMarche works for.
Which leaves a couple of questions:
Why not give candidates the money earlier, say as soon as they qualify for public funding?
Wouldn’t that be simpler and, uh, cleaner?
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