An initiated state statute to prohibit election spending by foreign governments, including entities with partial government ownership or control, will appear on the Maine ballot on Nov. 7, 2023.
In Nov. 2022, Protect Maine Elections, which is the campaign behind the initiative, submitted 67,550 valid signatures, meeting the signature requirement of 63,067 signatures, and was certified to the Legislature. In Maine, citizen-initiated state statutes must meet a signature requirement to be considered by the Maine State Legislature, which is calculated as 10% of the total votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election.
The Legislature approved the initiative—the first time in 16 years that legislators approved a citizen initiative rather than letting the initiative go straight to the ballot. On June 26, the House voted 73-53 to pass the initiative. On July 6, the Senate concurred with the House and also passed the initiative. Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) vetoed the initiative on July 19, 2023, and the Maine State Legislature did not override Gov. Mill’s veto of the initiative. This sent the initiative to the Maine ballot for voters to decide.
In a statement, Gov. Mills said, “While I strongly support and share the desire to find ways to prevent foreign influence in our elections, the language of this bill is too broad and would likely result in the unintended consequences of effectively silencing legitimate voices, including Maine-based businesses, in debates that would impact their interests.”
Gov. Mills vetoed a similar bill, LD 194, in 2021, which was designed to prohibit contributions by foreign government-owned entities to influence ballot measures. In a statement, Gov. Mill said that “entities with direct foreign investment employ thousands of Mainers,” and that “legislation that could bar these entities from any form of participation in a referendum is offensive to the democratic process, which depends on a free and unfettered exchange of ideas, information, and opinion.” In 2021, Question 1—an initiative that prohibited the construction of electric transmission lines defined as high-impact in the Upper Kennebec Region, including the NECEC—was on the ballot. Five PACs opposed the ballot measure, and out of the $71.9 million raised to oppose the initiative, $20.59 million came from H.Q. Energy Services (U.S.) Inc., which is a subsidiary of Hydro-Québec, a Canadian utility. On July 29, 2020, 25 current and former state legislators sent a letter to Quebec Premier François Legault and Hydro-Québec CEO Sophie Brochu, requesting that Hydro-Québec cease campaign activities in Maine. Question 1 was approved by Maine voters on Nov. 2, 2021, by 59.2%-40.8%.
Out of the 21 states that provide for citizen-initiated state statutes, nine (9) of them, including Maine, have an indirect initiated statute process. The other states are Alaska, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. If the Legislature approves the initiative (and the governor enacts it in the states that require governor approval), the initiative becomes law. If the Legislature does not approve the initiative, or if the governor vetoes the initiative, it goes to the ballot for Maine voters to decide. Out of the nine states that provide for the indirect initiated state statute process, five states—Maine, as well as Massachusetts, Nevada, Ohio, and Utah—allow for the governor to veto an initiative the state legislature approves.
Out of the 78 citizen initiatives that have gone to the Maine Legislature in Maine’s history, eight (10.25%) of them were enacted by the Legislature and then approved by the governor. The only time a citizen initiative was vetoed by the governor and then went to the Maine ballot was in 2007, for a measure that would have authorized the operation of slot machines at a tribal commercial track (voters defeated this initiative by 52%-47%). Another citizen initiative that went to the Legislature was also enacted in 2007—the last time the Legislature and the governor enacted a citizen initiative—to allow for a tax credit for college loan repayments.
At least eight measures will appear on the Maine ballot in Nov. 2023. Four measures, including the Prohibit Foreign Spending in Elections Initiative, were citizen-initiated state statutes that went to the Legislature—and because the Legislature did not enact these measures, they will appear on the ballot for Maine voters to decide. The other four measures are constitutional amendments referred to the ballot by the Maine State Legislature.