It is hard to imagine that when the Legislature adopted the Clean Election law, it envisioned turning the election commission into a collection agency.So a complicated ufnding mechanism coupled with poor administration still yeilds a fund far too tempting for the rest of government to leave alone. Maine's election fund is far smaller than any that would be required by a federal system and they can't seem to manage it very well.
And the fact that the fund did not run dry last year appears to be just dumb luck.
Funding for clean elections comes from a system that looks like Rube Goldberg invented it — a very complex machine designed to do a very simple task. Some money comes from the general fund, some from the charity of taxpayers who check off the right box on their income tax forms. Then there are fines, supposedly paid by violators of the Clean Election law.
However, demands on the fund don't just come from candidates who are slow to reimburse it. There are also unpaid loans, by the governor and the Legislature.
According to Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, Gov. John Baldacci — and Angus King before him — with the assistance of the Legislature, has made a habit out of raiding the fund to pay for other state expenses.
At one point, according to Maine Citizens, the Clean Election Fund had been raided to the tune of $6.75 million with only $2.4 million returned.
Last year the fund was saved by the skin of its teeth by an infusion of cash from the Legislature of $1.2 million, significantly short of the $4.8 million that Maine Citizens argued should be returned.
Congress, which has a penchant for raiding supposedly untouchable line items (the Social Security "trust fund") would have to have a pot of money to the tune of at mininum half a billion dollars (that is if you allot $1 million per congressional race, double that for Senate races and even more for high dollar Senate races), a fund that can be accessed by any candidate who can met what would probably be pretty minimal standards. That nice juicy $500 million pot, on the conservative side, would present too tempting a target for federal appropriators.
The management of a public funding mechanism for the presidential system occupies several dozen lawyers and staffers at the FEC, can you imagine the complexity of the system were it to be applied to all Federal elections?