Clerks seek to shift municipal campaign finance filings to Maine Ethics Commission

Municipal clerks are urging the legislature to review a bill requiring candidates in Portland to submit campaign finance reports to the Maine Ethics Commission.

Maine Town and City Clerks Association logo

The Maine Town and City Clerks’ Association told lawmakers this month that its members support lowering the proposed population threshold enough to also include Lewiston and Bangor.

State law requires candidates and political action committees that focus on local races in municipalities with a population of 15,000 or more to submit papers to town clerks.

The bill, introduced by Representative Grayson Lockner, a Portland Democrat, would shift responsibility for handling forms to the Maine Ethics Committee for cities with more than 50,000 residents. Includes only Portland.

But the clerks testified at a hearing Wednesday before the legislature’s state and local government commission that municipalities covered by the Campaign Finance Act — those with populations over 15,000 — want to transfer responsibility for their management to the state.

“All agree that the intricacies of administering campaign finance law are best suited to the experts on the ethics committee,” wrote Patti Dubois, who chairs the Assembly’s Legislative Policy Committee.

“We fully understand the additional work required from the Ethics Committee,” Portland city clerk Katherine Jones wrote. “However, they are the experts in campaign finance reporting and whom we have to seek guidance and support.”

Dubois said the association understands that shifting the burden to the commission would place a significant burden on its staff immediately, so she suggested setting the population threshold initially at 30,000 so that Bangor and Lewiston would join Portland in transferring responsibility to the state.

She later said, the law could be amended to add South Portland, Auburn, Bedford, Sanford and Brunswick after lowering the threshold to 20,000 residents.

Dubois said a final step would be to list seven other regions that have campaign fund deposits: Saco, Scarborough, Westbrook, Augusta, Windham, Gorham and Waterville.

Lookner’s bill would also require clerks in towns that require campaign funding deposits to publish reports they receive online within 24 hours of any applicable deadlines. The association expressed concern about meeting this standard during the busy days immediately leading up to the elections.

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