PORTLAND, Maine — In a victory for advocates of clean elections, Maine will bolster public campaign finance laws weakened by a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling because of voters' passage of a referendum on Tuesday.
State voters also decided to authorize $100 million in bonds for infrastructure improvements and housing for seniors.
The Mainers for Accountable Elections coalition wanted voters to approve an overhaul it promised would strengthen the campaign finance law, which gives public money to candidates running for governor and the Legislature. The proposal will make more money available to qualifying candidates, increase fines for violators of the campaign finance laws and require groups to disclose some donors on political ads, the group said.
Passage of Question 1, the clean election initiative, also increases money available to gubernatorial candidates to $3 million, group president Andrew Bossie said, adding that the amount was less than $2 million before the Legislature suspended it. Passage will also bolster the state's allocation to its Maine Clean Election Fund from $2 million to $3 million per year.
Republican Gov. Paul LePage has been an outspoken critic of the overhaul, which he has called a "scam." He said he thought voters were naive if they thought the changes would get money out of politics.
The Maine State Chamber of Commerce also charged that a provision in the proposal to remove $6 million in business tax incentives would take money away from businesses and give it to candidates.
But Lizzy Reinholt, a spokeswoman for Mainers for Accountable Elections, said approval will "allow Maine to lead the way on campaign finance reform," first approved in 1996.
Jane Sloven, a Portland resident who voted in favor of passage, agreed.
"I can't imagine who wouldn't want to know who is pumping big money into our state to influence elections," she said.
With 83 percent of precincts reporting in unofficial returns late Tuesday, approval of the measure exceeded 55 percent of voters.
The bond proposals were divided between two questions. One pledged to authorize $85 million for infrastructure projects. Most of the money will pay to construct, reconstruct or rehabilitate state highways and replace and rehab bridges.
The other question promised to provide $15 million for housing for seniors. Most of the money will be used to build affordable homes for low-income households headed by people over 55 years of age.
Both bond questions were overwhelmingly approved, according to unofficial returns.