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

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Jan. 14—Municipal clerks are urging the Legislature to revise a bill that would require candidates in Portland to file campaign finance reports with the Maine Ethics Commission.

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

State law requires candidates and political action committees focused on local races in municipalities with a population of 15,000 or more to file paperwork with their town clerks.

The bill introduced by state Rep. Grayson Lookner, a Portland Democrat, would shift the responsibility of dealing with the forms to the Maine Ethics Commission for cities with more than 50,000 residents. That includes only Portland.

But the clerks submitted testimony for a hearing Wednesday before the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee that municipalities covered by the campaign finance law — those with populations of more than 15,000 — want the responsibility for administering it shifted to the state.

“All agree that the intricacies of administering campaign finance law is best suited for the experts at the Ethics Commission,” wrote Patti Dubois, who chairs the association’s Legislative Policy Committee.

“We fully understand the additional work that will be required of the Ethics Commission,” wrote Portland City Clerk Katherine Jones. “However, they are the experts on campaign finance reporting and who we have to call for guidance and support.”

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

Later, she said, the law could be adjusted to add South Portland, Auburn, Biddeford, Sanford and Brunswick after dropping the threshold to 20,000 in population.

The final step, Dubois said, would be the inclusion of the other seven localities that have campaign finance filings: Saco, Scarborough, Westbrook, Augusta, Windham, Gorham and Waterville.

Lookner’s bill would also require clerks in towns that require campaign finance filings to post the reports they receive online within 24 hours of any applicable deadlines. The association expressed concern about meeting that standard during the busy days immediately preceding an election.