Unpacking the Sausage: Pay to play with the Maine Democratic Party

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How many fundraising emails did you get about abortion this week?

Nancy Pelosi’s team sent many of them from Texas, where she was busy aggressively campaigning for an anti-choice incumbent to beat a pro-choice primary challenger.

At this point, I am mortified to still be a registered Democrat.

Bre KidmanOne of the few remaining reasons I’m still here is on May 12 the Maine Democratic Party will vote on amendments to its charter. One amendment on this year’s agenda is essential to Maine voters’ ability to choose their own candidates for public office in primary elections. 

You haven’t heard about it, have you? With the exception of delegates, most people never will.  

The Maine Democratic Convention is taking place this week, in person and remotely. Regardless of whether participants show up in Bangor or on yet another Zoom meeting, the ticket price is $45 per person. The party offers fee waivers, but the implication is clear: if you want to be part of how the Democrats make decisions, you pay to play.

For an organization that spends tremendous time and resources convincing people to vote, it seems a little odd to put up obstacles regarding party affairs. That said, the fee waivers create compliance with the charter’s rule stating that the party may charge “reasonable” fees to finance its functions, but “no person shall be excluded from any Democratic Party function for inability to pay a fee.” 

While I might argue that $45 a head for a Zoom meeting stretches the limits of “reasonable,” it’s at least close enough to comporting with a mostly clear standard. I wish I could say the same for the charter’s prohibition on endorsements in contested primary elections.

It says “The Maine Democratic Party, and all state and local Party organizations, shall not endorse any candidate in a contested Democratic Party primary election. This subsection does not prohibit a Party organization from making general support services available to primary candidates.”

Limited space and editorial standards on the use of profanity require me to omit the rancorous tale of how my 2020 grievance under this section played out, but it’s not the only one. Former 2022 gubernatorial candidate John Glowa spent months trying to break through Democratic Party communications trumpeting support for Gov. Janet Mills without so much as a mention of a primary. A grievance was filed on his behalf, signed by five members of the Democratic State Committee.

I sat on the party’s grievance committee the last term and listened to MDP Chair Drew Gattine argue that sending daily emails urging readers to help reelect Janet Mills was not an endorsement because the emails did not specifically use the word “endorsement.” I also listened to him argue that there was no “contested primary,” even though Glowa had met the definition of candidacy under state law and given the party thousands of dollars for access to voter data for his campaign. 

The grievance was ultimately dismissed without a vote due to some petitioners leaving their seats on the Democratic State Committee. The proposed amendment came shortly after. It reads:

“For the purpose of this Section only: an endorsement is defined as any preferential statement (verbal, written, visual or otherwise) supporting a candidate’s electoral race; candidate is defined in 21-A M.R.S.A. §1(5).

“1. Primary Elections. The Maine Democratic Party, and all state and local Party organizations, shall not endorse any person in a Democratic Party primary unless they are the only candidate who has qualified for the Democratic Party primary election ballot as verified and certified by the Secretary of State’s office after the statutory filing deadline.

“This subsection does not prohibit a Party organization from making general support services available to primary candidates as long as those services are offered equally to all candidates.”

It’s a good amendment, but the party requires a quorum to pass anything. With dozens of empty delegate slots and a $45-per-person charge for the ones they filled, the likelihood of that happening is slim.

If this amendment does not pass, the whole thing is just lip service. The Maine Democratic Party would have no reason to stop hand-selecting candidates based on their ability to pay. It leaves the door wide open for monumental stupidity – like Sara “Lost to the Most Unpopular Senator in the Country by 9 Points” Gideon turning her leftover millions into another cash-and-carry primary for Sen. Angus King’s seat in 2024. 

I’d say it might finally be enough to make me leave the party for good, but someone has to get the word out about who chooses our candidates. The Maine Democratic Party certainly doesn’t want anyone to know they don’t intend for the voters to do it. How would they fundraise on that?

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

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