Are local governments in Maine illegally campaigning for more taxes and spending?

It appears as though the line prohibiting government entities from engaging in political campaigns has been crossed in Maine. Now, the Maine Heritage Policy Center (MHPC) is doing something about it. Today, MHPC's David Crocker announced that his group filed a lawsuit alleging that the Maine Municipal Association (MMA) engaged in illegal campaign activities by contributing millions, including campaigns against initiatives that would have limited spending and lower taxes for Mainers. You can read about it here.  This is what Crocker had to say:

"The Maine Municipal Association has directly and publicly engaged in electioneering by taking sides and contributing public dollars to influence the outcome of initiative campaigns," Crocker said.  "There is a clear line that may not be crossed.  MMA has crossed that line repeatedly."

According to the release: "Under a 1989 statute, the Maine Legislature confirmed MMAs status as an "instrumentality" of local government.  The same statute also requires all MMA assets be held by the State Treasurer upon MMA's dissolution for municipalities in Maine.  Further, MMA claims exemption from federal income tax as a government entity, and receives an exemption as a government entity from Maine sales tax."

"Based on more than 60 years of national case law (including a 1991 opinion by the Maine Superior Court) and a 2004 opinion by then-Attorney General Steven Rowe, a government entity is prohibited from interfering, taking sides, participating and contributing to political campaigns.  MMA has unequivocally ignored this legal advice."

"Between 2000 and 2009, MMA provided substantial financial, staff and other resources to four PACs supporting or opposing five citizen initiatives.  Their interference included: coordination with other interest groups in organizing and/or managing PACs; staff support for PACs and political campaigns, including MMA personnel holding leadership roles with PACs; and cash and in-kind contributions totaling nearly $2 million."

"The complaint also shows that MMA's electioneering exceeds its articles of incorporation.  According to those articles, MMA's purpose is 'to serve as an association for the promotion of good municipal government; to be a non-political and non-partisan organization dedicated to the purpose of promoting good municipal government by the exchange of ideas and information through the united effort and cooperation of its members,'."

This lawsuit could have significant precedential weight in the many states where tax and spending issues are on the ballot, and public sector unions hold significant sway budget policies. We here at NTU are going to be watching this case closely. As a group that has been involved in a number of initiative campaigns and seen a lot of dirty tricks employed, we are always hope for the success of efforts to keep things fair. Governments and their allies need to learn that they cannot use taxpayer dollars to finance efforts to continue their reckless spending and tax policies.