Down East 2013 ©
In an email to supporters today, Green Independent candidate Lynne Williams announced that she will no longer seek clean elections funds.
In her note, Williams makes a half-hearted attempt to claim that she's making the change out of respect for the state's budget woes. The email is titled "Our campaign won't use tax money" and she writes that "in the end, in light of the current fiscal mismanagement we're seeing in Augusta, I could not, in good conscience, take public money that might be better used to help people in real need."
The real story, however, is contained in the rest of her email and in the results  of the latest fundraising reports.
Despite being a candidate  for more than a year, by January Williams had raised only about $10,000 in $100 seed money contributions, only 1/4 of what's now needed to qualify for public financing. She had also spent more than $11,000, putting her campaign into debt.
At the time, Williams told the Kennebec Journal that she would be holding a series of house parties to raise the rest and that "people are now beginning more to focus on the race than before the holidays."
It has obviously now become clear to Williams and her campaign that house parties just aren't going to cut it. She has exhausted her donor base and can't raise the private money needed to qualify for public funds.
In her email, Williams decries the new seed money requirement as well as the $250 increase in the amount that donors can give to privately-funded candidates.
"Basically, the Legislature said that in order to avoid the influence of private money, we have to raise private money. It makes no sense."
Williams and other Greens opposed  the changes to the law at the time they were made, but in a written interview  with Augusta Insider published more than a month after the new law was passed, she explicitly ruled out ever making the kind of switch she has just announced.
"My campaign is as much about principles as it is about winning," wrote Williams. "Although I am running to win, if that required that I violate my own principles - such as those candidates who in the past have supported Clean Elections but now, for the sake of expediency, reject it - I would not run."
So, beyond exposing her to charges of hypocrisy, what does this change mean for Williams and the broader election?
First, it puts the Green Party candidate in a terrible position both financially and strategically.
Obviously, Williams had been banking on clean elections funds and had been spending her current contributions (and more) attempting to clear the $40,000 bar. She'll now have to retool for a privately-financed run.
Some of the donors who gave $100 contributions might be convinced to give more, and without a primary she has plenty of time to raise money before the General Election, but she'll still almost certainly be at a huge financial disadvantage compared to her opponents. Even if every one of her donors so far gave the campaign an extra $650 right now, an unlikely scenario, she'd still have less than $100,000 in the bank.
This has to be good news for the Democrats. It means that whatever Democratic candidate makes it through the primary will have an opponent on their left who is that much quieter, perhaps allowing the Democrat to claim more middle ground.
It's also likely good news for the Cutler campaign. As the other serious candidate in the race not running for a major party, his superior (self-) financing may allow him to pick up more unaffiliated voters and protest votes.
It's also good for Peter Mills. It doesn't help his campaign at all (except perhaps by making the clean elections money pool he'll be drawing from a little deeper and more secure) but it does make this quote  he gave to Christopher Cousins of the Statehouse News Bureau on the changes to the clean elections law look very prescient:
"To raise the $40,000 for a candidate who probably can't win is going to be very difficult," said Mills. "I have to wonder if this means that the Green party is essentially out of gubernatorial contention."
The biggest impact this change may have, however, may be on the future of the Maine Clean Elections Act itself. Williams' campaign could end up being a martyr for the cause of keeping the act true to its original principles.
If one of Maine's three recognized parties can't even come close to meeting the conditions of the act, how can it be meeting the expectations for open and fair elections that Maine voters had when they enacted it in 1996. At the very least, Williams' example is a powerful argument for reducing the seed money contribution requirement.
One thing Williams' diminished resources won't mean is the end of the Maine Green Independent Party.
The legislature passed a law at the same time as the MCEA changes which makes it more likely that the party will maintain its official status. Instead of garnering 5% of the vote in a gubernatorial or presidential election, the Greens now only have to get 10,000 of their members to vote in a general election once every four years, ostensibly a much easier task.