Unpacking the Sausage: In Government Inc. we trust?

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I used to love a Barney Frank quote about how government is the name we give to the things we decide to do together – until a mortifyingly earnest run at federal office bitchslapped me with the truth: government is the name we give to the things we allow corporations to decide for us.

Life is hard enough for most people without waking up in a cold sweat about campaign finance. As a result, the political nightmare machine is emboldened to keep spending more and more money on advertisements that provide less and less information about what’s on the ballot – all the while fanning the flames of party-line bickering to distract from their bipartisan collaboration on policy that serves only the people who can get them those sweet, sweet quarterly fundraising numbers.

Bre KidmanThat is, more or less, how we in Maine have wound up surrounded by signs that urge us to “Say No To Retroactive Laws,” despite there being no actual ballot measure strictly on the topic of retroactive laws. 

The ad campaign, put on by the ironically named (and Central Maine Power Co.-funded) “Mainers for Fair Laws,” speaks to ballot Question 1 – a citizen initiative, which means concerned citizens dragged their asses out to collect more than 63,000 signatures from Mainers to get the measure to the voters for a decision.

It’s especially impressive considering this is the second such attempt to give the voters a voice in the matter, the first one having been thwarted when the Maine Supreme Judicial Court held that citizens lacked the authority to overrule the unelected administrative board that approved the project. 

So, Mainers now come to the ballot box asking to transfer the power to make these decisions to elected officials (over whom we have at least the pretense of oversight), and CMP, Hydro-Quebec, and Avangrid’s New England Clean Energy Connect Transmission LLC respond by masking the money they’re spending on the battle under a couple shiny names (like Clean Energy Matters) and start dangling out some red herring about retroactive laws being bad.

It’s worth noting that Clean Energy Matters is the biggest spender in Maine’s 2021 election at over $19 million – nearly double the No. 2 spender on the list. That’s Mainers for Local Power, another disingenuously named political action committee formed to mask the contributions of fossil fuel companies who stand to lose money if the corridor goes up. The Hydro-Quebec Maine Partnership comes in at No. 3 with $8 million (although their spending is somewhat comically categorized as an “awareness campaign for the general public” rather than spending to influence the election). Mainers for Fair Laws and Vote No To Protect Maine round out the top five at $3.7 million and $2.9 million respectively. 

If you want to get really mad, consider this: Misleadingly named PAC spending easily outstrips the number between $14 million and $40 million in energy cost savings promised to CMP customers as part of the deal. But when you compare it to the whole of the billion-dollar project, on which Hydro-Quebec stands to make $12.4 billion, it’s really just a drop in the bucket.

These figures also don’t include money CMP and Avangrid paid lobbyists to block LD 640 back in 2019, which would have required an independent study of whether the CMP corridor would actually create a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

After all, if there’s no data saying the project would increase net emissions, there’s no reason why the ads calling it a “clean energy corridor” would need to adjust their claims that the transmission of some already-existing units of cleanish power from one region to another is good for the environment. Surely the fact that the company that performed the environmental impact study was working for the power companies in close proximity can’t be a problem, right? Gov. Janet Mills said the analysis was “sufficient.”

A business-friendly Democratic governor to pull the “vote blue no matter who” crowd into the illusion that it’s environmentally sound puts a bow on it. The power company profits from selling dubiously green power to Massachusetts; the governor gets campaign contributions from happy executives and/or their friends and family. And the citizens? The citizens who are so fed up with the power company that their elected officials voted to scrap it for a public-owned utility (before said Democratic governor vetoed the bill)? 

Well, heaven forbid they try to get any say in the matter with a retroactive law. It’s undignified. Uncivilized. It will “harm Mainers and businesses” to allow citizens to reclaim decision-making power about our state’s energy future from unelected people. 

“Mainers for Fair Laws,” indeed. 

Bre Kidman is an artist, activist, and attorney (in that order), and the first openly non-binary person in history to run for U.S. Senate. They would be delighted to hear your thoughts on the political industrial complex at [email protected].