Portland's City Hall in March 2023. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)
Portland's City Hall in March 2023. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)
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Candidates considering running for mayor, city council and school board in Portland this fall can declare as soon as June 1 whether they intend to run as a publicly financed candidate.

At that date, candidates can begin the process of running via clean elections, a newly adopted program approved by voters. However, they won’t be official city candidates yet, since nomination papers aren’t available until June 30. The earliest a candidate can turn in the nomination papers is August 14.

Anna Kellar, executive director for Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, said that an opt-in clean elections program will broaden the pool of candidates. Candidates who use publicly allotted funds from a clean elections program cannot otherwise self-fund their campaigns or raise private donations.

The process can seem a little confusing, but here’s what we understand. 

Candidates running for municipal seats via a clean elections program sign a declaration of intent anytime between June 1 and September 11, and sign an affidavit with the city clerk’s office pledging to refund the city if they drop out or fail to qualify for the ballot. Those wishing to be clean elections candidates can start collecting $5 qualifying contributions on June 1, which help them secure the full funding amounts (more on that later). 

This is according to Anna Trevorrow, a city councilor who helped draft language for the program adopted in April by the City Council. 

City officials were not prepared to offer comment and information this week, City Clerk Ashley Rand said, adding that the city was still finalizing forms. Officials have scurried to apply the newly adopted language to the program to adopt it for June 1, but it’s possible that something could change before then.

All candidates — those using clean elections funds or otherwise — later submit formal nomination papers during a window opening August 14. If candidates register for clean elections money but fail to qualify for the ballot, they must return all funds to the city.

Candidates are eligible for four rounds of funding, the first of them disbursed on July 15.

By the end of the clean elections qualifying period on September 11, candidates must also submit qualifying contributions to the city to show they have support.

Here’s where the process differs a little. In mayoral races, clean elections candidates need 200 qualifying contributions. For at-large council races, they need 100, then 50 for district council races, 60 for at-large school board races and 40 for district school board races.

Kellar said candidates can receive up to three additional disbursements of funding after the first.

In competitive mayoral races, where more than one candidate runs, clean elections candidates receive up to $100,000. The initial disbursement for a contested mayoral race is $40,000 and would then decrease. Uncompetitive races, where only one candidate runs, are funded at lower levels.

For at-large council races, that number drops to $30,000 for contested races, with an initial distribution of $10,000. District races would have an initial disbursement of $4,000 with a total of $12,000 being available.

There are incentives for more popular candidates. Candidates can collect and submit qualifying contributions, which are $5 donations from residents in the city, to demonstrate their support. A mayoral candidate can receive another $20,000 for an additional 100 qualifying contributions, an at-large council candidate can receive another $6,666 for another 50 contributions, and a district council candidate can turn in another 25 contributions to receive $2,666. But candidates can only collect these funds through September 11.

For all races, there would be a total amount of nearly $465,000 available for this fall. Each year beyond that, it would be replenished by an additional $290,000. However, funds will need to be approved by the Council’s Finance Committee, as it is something that needs to be in the city’s operating budget.

It’s not clear exactly what happens if so many candidates enter races that the pool of funding expires, though when the plan was approved, it was suggested the funds were first come, first served. While the past two mayoral races only had a few candidates, the city’s 2011 mayoral race had 15 candidates on the ballot.

According to Brandon Mazer, an attorney with Perkins Thompson who was hired to assist the city in developing ordinance language (and who also chairs the Planning Board), candidates can also raise $100 seed money collections beyond the $5 qualifying contributions, depending on the race.

The difference between qualifying contributions and seed money contributions, per state law, is that qualifying contributions demonstrate a candidate has a threshold of community support by collecting enough funding via $5 contributions toward a clean election fund. Seed funding, meanwhile, is when individuals are allowed to give up to $100 to a candidate for their races.

The council will pursue putting a charter amendment out to voters in November to align the dates for clean elections and traditional fundraising candidates, so nomination papers are available at the same time for candidates to declare for clean elections.

“It’s been challenging,” Trevorrow said. “We have a responsibility to make a program that will be attractive to candidates. The goal was to reduce private interests and allow for candidates who don’t have access to big donors.” She added that even if it was “imperfect” in its first year, it still allowed for candidates to participate.

Kellar said the best course of action for anyone considering running as this type of candidate is to contact the city for more information.


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