Entries Filed in 'Civil Rights'
Money from outside groups seeking to sway legislative elections in Maine has increased 563 percent from 2008 to 2012 according to a new report released today by Maine Citizens for Clean Elections (MCCE). The Shell Game: How Independent Expenditures Have Invaded Maine Since Citizens United is the 11th in a series of reports published by MCCE’s Money and Politics Project.
“Recent court rulings that have weakened our Clean Elections and campaign finance laws are allowing unaccountable outside groups to unleash a flood of money to sway our elections and government,” said BJ McCollister, Program Director for MCCE. “Voters are being left in the dark. A lack of strong disclosure laws make it possible for wealthy special interests to hide their identity when they spend to influence our elections.”
The report shows that some nonprofit organizations, namely those classified under the 501(c) laws, are able to shield the identity of corporate or individual donors behind independent expenditures in Maine legislative and gubernatorial races. Entities are making as many as four to five transfers before making the actual expenditure in Maine races. The campaign finance shell game makes tracking the money a never ending, and at times, impossible process. With increased cover for contributors and the ability to make unlimited independent expenditures, groups are spending up to eleven times the amount of the average campaign budget in highly contested races.
“Voters are hearing more from outside groups than from the candidates themselves,” said McCollister. “It is nearly impossible for voters to find out who is ultimately paying for the political ads in our elections. These large, untraceable expenditures pose a serious risk to our democracy.”
Tags: Fraud in Clean elections
Evidence shows unemployment benefits do not stop people from seeking work as the insurance only gives recipients half of what their salary was, in Maine. It enables workers to have a safety net while they look for a good job. The unemployment benefits program helps distinguish the U.S. as a first world country versus a third world nation. Realistic safety nets are part of what government should be doing.
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree warned Congressional leaders that letting emergency unemployment benefits expire at the end of this month would slow the economic recovery and make it harder for workers looking for a job to get by.
“If Congress doesn’t act, 3,000 people in Maine will lose their unemployment checks at the end of the month and nearly 9,000 more will by next summer. Not only will that be a devastating blow to families struggling to make ends meet but will have a real impact on economic growth,” Pingree said. “Unemployment checks don’t sit in someone’s bank account, they get spent on gas, groceries, clothes, home heating oil and other essentials at local businesses.”
According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) unemployment checks are the most effective benefit, dollar-for-dollar, to drive local economic activity.
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Maine’s economy has not improved for Maine’s children and families according to the 2013 Maine KIDS COUNT Data Book, an annual compilation of evidence-based data on the status and well-being of children in Maine.
“Investing in young children is an investment in the future prosperity of Maine,” Ned McCann, executive director of MCA, stated. “At the Maine Children’s Alliance we have been concerned that during the time that more of Maine’s children are getting poorer, fewer are receiving support to help them through their financial hardships.”
Kids Count reports that in 2011 (the most recent data available), 19.3 percent of all Maine children under age 18 were living in poverty-an increase from 18.2 percent in 2010 as reported last year. Childhood poverty varied widely across Maine’s sixteen counties, from a low of 13.6 percent in York County to a high of 31.2 percent in Washington County.
Among Maine children under age five, almost one in four were living in poverty. Along the same lines, Maine’s median income of families with children dropped to $53,400 in 2012-down slightly from $53,600 in 2011. Maine families are getting by on incomes much lower than their New England neighbors and the nation as a whole.
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The Maine State Capitol. Photo by Ramona du Houx
Following a long day of hearing appeals, a bipartisan panel of top legislative leaders approved 28 critical measures for consideration during the short second session of the legislature, which is typically reserved for emergency or time-sensitive matters.
The Legislative Council, the governing body of the legislature, made its initial decisions on bills for consideration during the second session of the 126th Legislature on Oct. 30. About a quarter of the 400 proposed bills won initial approval at the time. Today, the panel heard appeals on bills which were not initially approved.
Speaker of the House Mark Eves, who chairs the council said, “When we began this process, our goal was to focus our work next year on the most pressing issues facing our economy and our citizens, particularly expanding access to life-saving health care. Advocates for bills that were appealed today made the case that their measures needed action right away.”
Key bills that were approved included measures to expand the veterans’ treatment courts, provide property tax relief to senior citizens; extend certain Pine Tree Development Zones; prevent ocean acidification from harming Maine’s commercial fisheries; and help local small businesses.
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During the 2014 legislative session, the Legislature will consider a bill sponsored by Democratic Senator David Dutremble to provide property tax relief for seniors.
“We should be doing more to help seniors stay in their homes as long as they can,” said Senator Dutremble. “Ensuring they aren’t taxed out of their homes is a start.”
In an effort to avoid a government shut down, earlier this year the Legislature agreed to a Republican proposal to eliminate the Circuitbreaker program and replace it with the Property Tax Fairness Credit. The agreement made property taxes increase for the majority that need it the most. Under the Circuitbreaker program, the average rebate was $478, and the maximum was $1600. Under the new Property Tax – so called – Fairness Credit, the maximum rebate for people over the age of 70 is $400, less than the average Circuitbreaker rebate.
Senator Dutremble’s bill, LR 2593, “An Act to Provide Property Tax Relief to Seniors Residing in Maine”, would freeze the property taxes of eligible seniors, and reimburse municipalities for up to fifty percent of the lost revenue.
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Tags: Property taxes in maine
After approving a bill authorizing major medical facility leases for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing that examined the VA’s major construction program. Multiple internal and external reviews, including committee hearings, have found serious deficiencies in the management of the VA’s construction program, leading to significant cost increases and substantial delays in the design and construction of medical center projects.
“‘Over budget’ and ‘delayed’ should not be the terms that best describe the VA’s major construction projects. Unfortunately, that’s the most accurate way to characterize them,” said Rep. Mike Michaud (ME-02), Ranking Member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “After years of reforms and attempts to fix the problems, VA is still coming up short. While some delays and cost overruns are completely legitimate, this hearing revealed that numerous weaknesses still exist and must be addressed.”
In 2012, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a review of the VA’s management of medical facility construction projects and released the report in April, 2013. GAO found VA’s four largest construction projects, Las Vegas, Orlando, Denver and New Orleans, all had cost increases ranging from 59 percent to 144 percent, representing a total cost increase of nearly $1.5 billion and an average increase of approximately $366 million per project. Additionally, GAO reported schedule delays ranging from 14 to 74 months with an average delay of 35 months per project.
Michaud is pushing for an omnibus Veterans bill that covers backlogs, and other deficiencies in the VA/Department of Defense system. Read more here:
Maine’s Majority Education Fund and the Center for Media and Democracy released a 30-page report today entitledFooling Maine: How national conservative groups infiltrated Maine politics by founding and funding the Maine Heritage Policy Center. It is the first comprehensive analysis of the origins and activities of the Maine Heritage Policy Center (MHPC), a right-wing “think tank” that has radically transformed the political landscape of Maine since its creation in 2002.
The report shows how the MHPC came about as a result of national conservative groups’ efforts to influence politics at the state and local levels, primarily through an organization called the State Policy Network (SPN). It confirms what many observers has long suspected: that the MHPC receives much, if not most, of its funding from out-of-state interests, including the Koch Brothers.
For the tax years 2008 and 2009, the report found, at least half of the MHPC’s funding came from national conservative donors and foundations. In all, the MHPC has taken more than $2.5 million from out-of-state conservative donors since its inception. It is likely that the total extent of the MHPC’s out-of-state funding is far greater, but a lack of publicly available data and the MHPC’s unwillingness to disclose its contributors makes it impossible to know for sure.
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Tags: Elections in Maine
Congressman Mike Michaud is now serving as the ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. On the committee, Michaud has been able to work successfully with Republicans, cutting through the current partisan climate in the nation’s capital.
Mike Michaud comforts a Vietnam Veteran who finally was recognized for his service. Photo By Ramona du Houx
Over the years, Michaud has been on the front lines of the fight in Congress to fund the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) at a level that begins to meet the needs of veterans. He helped pass historic legislation that provided the largest budget increases for the VA, expanded access to VA health care, improved health services for all veterans, and modernized benefits earned by servicemembers.
In addition, Michaud successfully passed provisions into law that led to increased access to healthcare services for rural Maine veterans. The state has new veterans’ care facilities and a mobile care unit because of the congressman. He also authored legislation creating a new program that provides support to veteran caregivers by offering them training and access to mental health counseling. Last year, Michaud worked to pass a bill improving long-term care for elderly and severely disabled veterans that are at state veterans’ homes.
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By Linda Valentino and Seth Berry
Mainers from all over our state sent lawmakers to Augusta to do the work of the people.The first-of-its kind workforce skills gap legislation is one of the best examples of getting a job done for Maine people. Crafted by the Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future, the legislation strengthens the state’s economy and working families by helping our friends and neighbors compete for 21st-century jobs.
Democrats, Republicans and independent lawmakers came together to equip Maine’s workers and workplaces with the skills they need. The unanimous, bipartisan legislation won kudos from the business, education and labor communities. It was work in which we all can take enormous pride.
Yet the administration of Gov. Paul LePage is hindering our work. In an unprecedented development, commissioners, department experts and even those whose job it is to be “legislative liaisons” will not appear before legislative committees as we tackle issues key to Maine’s prosperity — areas including workforce training, small business development and the state’s innovation economy.
How can we govern if one branch of government is working in the dark and under a gag order?
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Tags: Gag order in Maine
The Maine AFL-CIO published its 2013 Working Families Legislative Scorecard this week and has mailed it to 40,000 active and retired workers across the state.
For the first time this year, the Working Families Legislative Scorecard also ranked the Governor’s actions on important workers’ rights bills. Of the eleven scored bills, six reached his desk. The Governor vetoed five and refused to sign the sixth, earning him a zero score for 2013.
“This past session we saw numerous bills passed by the Legislature that would have helped working families, like a bill to raise the minimum wage, Buy American legislation that would have created jobs, and health care expansion that would have ensured more Mainers can go see their family doctor. Sadly, these bills to improve the lives of Maine workers were vetoed by Governor LePage. The Governor stood in the way of helping working families and was often supported by legislators in doing so. Working people need leaders who will support them and work for an economy that works for everyone,” said Don Berry, President of the Maine AFL-CIO.
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Tags: Maine's quality of life·unions