Bill targets ‘pay-to-play’ by banning lobbyists’ political contributions

Posted: February 27, 2017 | Senator Chenette, Veterans and Legal Affairs

AUGUSTA — A bill by Sen. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, would prohibit legislators from accepting donations from lobbyists, corporations and special interests.

The bill — LD 413, “An Act To Limit the Influence of Lobbyists by Expanding the Prohibition on Accepting Political Contributions” — received a public hearing before the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee on Monday.

State law currently prohibits legislators from accepting donations from lobbyists, lobbyist associates or their employers during the legislative session. Sen. Chenette’s bill would extend that  prohibition to the entire year, effectively banning all lobbyist contributions.

“Mainers know we need to get big money out of politics. In Augusta, as in Washington, those with the largest checkbook has the most direct influence over public policy decision making in our state. Citizens can’t afford to hire lobbyists to advocate on their behalf, but big corporations and special interests can,” said Sen. Chenette. “By expanding the lobbyist ban on political contributions to the entire year, we end the pay-for-play system that leads to undue influence on state officials, from our legislators all the way up to the Governor himself.“ (Click here for a full video of Sen. Chenette’s testimony before the committee.)

Between 2014 and 2015, more than 400 companies hired 229 lobbyists and spent nearly $5 million to lobby state legislators. During his testimony, Chenette stressed the importance of undue influence of money in politics.

“This year marks the seventh anniversary of Citizens United, the catastrophic decision by the United States Supreme Court that declared ‘money is speech,’ and in so doing exposed our politics to a deluge of special interest and lobbyist cash,” said Chenette.

“Especially in the case of a citizen legislature, lobbyists have become a fixture in the lawmaking process, often providing helpful information and perspective,” said Andrew Bossie, the Executive Director of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections. “But it is quite obvious that lobbyists are not here just to provide information. All lobbyists have an agenda. They want something from [lawmakers]. Many times, they want something that will benefit  their clients financially. Sometimes the financial benefit is very large. Sometimes what the lobbyist seeks comes at the expense of taxpayers and/or other worthy programs or interests.”

In addition to Bossie’s testimony, there were several citizens testifying in support of the bill, including Ann Luther of Trenton, a volunteer for the League of Women Voters of Maine.

LD 413 faces further action in the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, and votes in the House and Senate.