Voters in Maine to decide Question 2 to ban foreign government spending in elections

Maine voters will decide on a ballot initiative next month to ban foreign governments, or entities with at least 5% foreign government ownership or control, from spending money to influence ballot measures or candidate elections. If approved, Maine would join California, Colorado, Maryland, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Washington in prohibiting foreign nationals from contributing to ballot measure campaigns. 

Federal law currently prohibits contributions, donations, expenditures (including independent expenditures), and disbursements by foreign nationals to any federal, state, or local election but not ballot measure elections. Question 2 would be adding the federal prohibition to state law and include ballot measure elections. Therefore, Question 2 would prohibit foreign spending on ballot measure elections that federal law does not prohibit.

Violation of the law would be considered a Class C crime. The penalty for an activity prohibited under this measure is up to $5,000, or double the amount of the contribution or expenditure involved in the violation, whichever is greater.

Under Question 2, if a foreign government or entity with partial government ownership or control disburses funds or contributions for public communication (by television, radio, internet platform, newspaper, or another outlet) in order to influence the public regarding a policy or political interest, that communication must clearly contain the words “sponsored by” immediately followed by the name of the entity that made the disbursement. It would also have to include a statement identifying that entity as a foreign government or foreign government-influenced entity.

Question 2 would also call on Maine’s congressional delegation to support a federal constitutional amendment to ban foreign government spending in elections.

Protect Maine Elections is leading the campaign in support of this initiative. The committee has received $870,148 in cash and in-kind contributions. The top donors to the committee include American Promise Inc. ($205,000), David Peeler ($50,000), and Represent.US ($25,000). As of Sept. 30, the last campaign finance report deadline, there was no opposition committee registered.

Question 2 is an indirect initiated state statute, which means it was first considered by the state legislature before it was sent to the ballot. Both chambers of the state legislature voted to pass the initiative, but it was vetoed by Gov. Janet Mills (D). The legislature did not override her veto, so the initiative was sent to the November ballot.

Question 2 is one of eight ballot measures on the ballot in Maine. Four are citizen-initiated measures, and four are legislative referrals. The other seven address debt issued by utility companies, the creation of the Pine Tree Power Company, right to repair motor vehicles, the petition filing review process, including American Indian treaties in printed copies of the state constitution, petition gathering requirements, and the right to vote for individuals under a guardianship for reasons of mental illness.

Additional reading:

Maine 2023 ballot measures