Maine government should work for all Maine people — not just those who can afford the best lobbyist. Since I was first elected to the Legislature, I’ve been working to strengthen our ethics laws and policies to ensure that lawmakers are accountable to you, and that we truly are a government of, by and for the people.
Last year, I was proud to present and pass a package of bills to stop the revolving door of lawmakers becoming lobbyists and prevent politicians from profiting off political contributions through PACs. This was accomplished with unanimous bipartisan support. It showed when you have a good idea and the public is behind you, leaders can put differences aside to do what is right over what is easy. Now legislators will have to wait at least a year before they would be able to take up paid lobbying of any kind and legislators and candidates will be banned from using PACs as personal or business slush funds.
This year, the governor signed into law two additional measures I introduced to tackle lobbyist influence and ethics enforcement.
The first being the most consequential reform since probably the creation of the Maine Clean Election system. My new law bans lobbyist contributions to sitting lawmakers and legislative candidates as well as bans out of state lobbyist contributions to the sitting governor and gubernatorial candidates. We have now joined five other states — Alaska, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and California — in preventing lobbyists from using money to influence lawmakers directly.
The other new law has to do with enabling the Maine Ethics Commission to fully enforce rules around caucus PACs by clearly defining them in statute and defining who runs them. Since caucus PACs are run by legislative leaders, it’s critical they are held to a high ethical standard. I worked closely with the staff at the Maine Ethics Commission to ensure they backed the proposal.
When combined together, all four new laws represent a comprehensive overhaul of campaign finance rules and monumental progress.
After many years of persistence, I was finally able to pass my top legislative priority; comprehensive campaign finance reform. We moved the needle on money in politics, lobbyist influence, and created a more ethical state house so that your voice is heard over donors, corporations, and special interest groups.
With all the issues happening statewide and nationally, it can seem insignificant to be talking about ethics. It’s important, however, to keep an eye towards a future where our political leaders are championing everyday Mainers. Where money doesn’t guarantee access, influence, or even a vote. Where our government operates with the best intentions. That’s worth fighting for.
It has been my ongoing mission to bring about a more ethical, transparent, and accountable State House. I feel confident in the reforms I’ve proposed and passed into law. The difficulty of getting these reforms through the very system we’ve been seeking to reform, should indicate that we have struck a nerve. We have done something many thought was impossible.
The combination of my time as a journalist, eight years of legislative service, and my involvement in politics since I was a teenager, has taught me to constantly seek the truth and do something about it. Specifically, to instill a sense of trust and integrity back into the institution of government. It’s no easy feat, but with each new law, with each new effort to root out even the appearance of corruption, it gives Mainers one more reason to believe that when petitioning your government for a redress of grievances, your leaders will not only act, but act on your behalf.
Justin Chenette is serving his fourth term in the state legislature, currently representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington and Buxton in the Senate. He is the chair of the Government Oversight Committee, co-chair of the Democracy Reform Caucus, a member of the Environment and Natural Resources and Ethics Committees, and serves on the Maine Climate Council’s Coastal & Marine Working Group. He is also a Citizen Trade Policy Commissioner. Outside the Legislature, Justin is in real estate at the Bean Group, owner of a digital marketing firm, and is vice president of Saco Main Street. Follow updates at justinchenette.com.
Beyond the Headlines
Weekly Column featured in The Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier Newspaper by Rep. Justin Chenette of Saco