Breaking Down the Ballot: Question 2 targets foreign involvement in Maine politics

Published: Oct. 25, 2023 at 5:24 PM EDT
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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - This election day, between questions of power suppliers, Mainers will be asked to vote on foreign money in elections.

“Do you want to ban foreign governments and entities that they own, control, or influence from making campaign contributions or financing communications for or against candidates or ballot questions?”

Simply put, Question 2 is looking to prohibit foreign governments and entities from financially contributing to campaigns on Maine ballots. It also requires media outlets to do their “due diligence” in restricting all communications paid for - either directly or indirectly - by foreign entities.

That’s what Question 2 is asking Mainers this November.

Kaitlin LaCasse is the Campaign Manager for Yes On 2 Protect Maine Elections, who says the proposal will make Maine elections more secure.

“Foreign government-owned entities have spent over $100 million in Maine elections over the last three years,” explains LaCasse. “So, a yes vote on Question 2 would ban that type of spending and would return Maine elections back to the voters of Maine.”

Meanwhile, Patrick Woodcock, President and CEO of Maine State Chamber of Commerce, says it will limit free speech and participation in our democracy. ”The ballot initiative really restricts participation from companies that have interest in Maine from participating in future referendum and also donations to candidates,” says Woodcock.

We have seen this conflict between international companies with vested interest in referendums and Mainers before. Most recently in 2021 with the New England Clean Energy Connect corridor proposal.

Hydro-Quebec spent over $22 million in election communications to oppose the referendum question concerning halting the corridor and other ‘high impact’ projects.

Despite 59.2% of Mainers voting “Yes” to stop the corridor, Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court ultimately sided with the companies involved to push the project forward.

Woodcock says this one example should not be the be-all and end-all for the future, “I could see certainly some situations where a company with foreign ownership is on the side with Mainers and that it is a U.S. company that’s based in Florida that is on the other side. We should be careful about applying what occurred with one referendum, with a new statute that would prohibit it in all instances.”

“Foreign governments are already banned from supporting elected officials or candidates running. So this would really impact referendum campaigns, which is how Mainers are allowed to directly affect Maine laws,” adds LaCasse.

In July, Governor Mills vetoed this legislature, citing too vague of language that she said, “...would likely result in the unintended consequence of effectively silencing legitimate voices, including Maine-based businesses, in debates that would impact their interests.”

Not only would Question 2 restrict foreign governments and entities’ involvement in state referendums, but it would require media outlets to remove all communications paid for by foreign entities and do their “due diligence” in preventing communications that are directly or indirectly paid for by a foreign government entity.

Those opposed say these limitations are unconstitutional and violate First Amendment rights.

“I think there is a fundamental right to be able to express yourself as a person, as a business and limiting that to a type of business based on their ownership should be concerning,” explains Woodcock. “Our state is bordered by two Canadian provinces, we share an integrated economy. We want those companies across the border to be looking to invest in the state and more globally when we do trade missions to signal the state is open to business investments to move across the world.”

Those who support Question Two say it’s all about protecting Maine.

LaCasse describes it as, “It’s really important for our state’s interests, in the interests of our voters, that foreign governments are not permitted to interfere with our elections. Maine elections belong to Maine voters.”