Maine governor vetoes bill prohibiting ballot measure contributions from foreign government-owned entities

On June 23, 2021, Gov. Janet Mills (D) vetoed Legislative Document 194, which was designed to prohibit contributions, expenditures, and participation to influence ballot measures by entities with 10% or more ownership by foreign governments.

Mills’ veto letter said, “Even more troubling is this bill’s potential impact on Maine voters. Government is rarely justified in restricting the kind of information to which the citizenry should have access in the context of an election, and particularly a ballot initiative.”

The House approved LD 194 by a vote of 87-54 (61.7%-38.3%), with 10 absent. The Senate approved it by a vote of 23-11 (67.6%-32.4%), with one excused. A two-thirds (66.67%) vote of all present in both chambers of the Maine Legislature is required to overturn a veto. Maine has a Democratic state government trifecta. In the Senate, 14 Democrats and nine Republicans voted in favor of the bill, and seven Democrats and four Republicans voted against LD 194. In the House, 74 Democrats and eight Republicans voted in favor of it, and four Democrats and 50 Republicans voted against it.

Context and background on electric transmission lines initiative:

The bill was passed as an emergency bill in order to ensure it would apply to the current election cycle. There is one ballot measure currently certified for the 2021 ballot in Maine. The measure is an initiative that would (a) prohibit the construction of electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region, including the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), and (b) require a two-thirds vote of each state legislative chamber to approve certain electric transmission line projects. The NECEC is a 145-mile long, high-voltage transmission line project that would transmit around 1,200 megawatts from hydroelectric plants in Quebec to electric utilities in Massachusetts and Maine.

Clean Energy Matters is leading the campaign in opposition to the ballot initiative. The PAC Hydro-Québec Maine Partnership is also registered to oppose the ballot initiative. Together, the PACs have raised $31.56 million, including:

• $22.14 million from Central Maine Power (CMP), NECEC Transmission LLC, and the companies’ parent firm Avangrid; and 

• $8.28 million from H.Q. Energy Services (U.S.) Inc., which is a subsidiary of Hydro-Québec. 

Hydro-Québec is owned by the Province of Québec, which means LD 194 would have applied to it.

No CMP Corridor is leading the campaign in support of the ballot initiative. The PAC Mainers for Local Power is also registered to support the ballot initiative. Together, the PACs had raised $7.75 million, including: 

  • $4.98 million from NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Cumberland, Maine, and six solar fields or projects in southern and central Maine;
  • $1.26 million from Vistra Energy Corp., which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Veazie, Maine; and 
  • $1.22 million from Calpine Corp., which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Westbrook, Maine.

Additional reading: Maine Legislative Approval of Certain Electric Transmission Lines Initiative (2021)

Context and background on changes to laws governing ballot measures in 2021:

Ballotpedia has tracked 198 legislative proposals concerning ballot initiatives, veto referendums, referrals, local ballot measures, and recall in 39 states in 2021 legislative sessions. At least 24 have been approved. Of the total, 125 bills were designed to change laws governing statewide initiatives, veto referendums, and legislative referrals.

Legislators in Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah have passed restrictions on the initiative processes in their states in 2021. Notable topics among bills introduced in 2021 sessions include:

• supermajority requirement increases,

• signature requirement and distribution requirement increases,

• single-subject rules,

• pay-per-signature bans,

• residency requirements and other circulator restrictions,

• fiscal impact statement and funding source requirements, and

• ballot measure campaign contribution restrictions.

Gov. Mills is not the first governor to veto a ballot initiative restriction in 2021. Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R) vetoed a bill to require that initiative and referendum petitions must be circulated in Idaho and that petitions must be signed while the signer is physically located within the state. Gov. Little cited concerns over constitutionality.