BAR HARBOR — A proposal to require candidates for local office and political action committees (PACs) to disclose campaign contributions has been put on hold. The town council asked Town Manager Cornell Knight for more information how the proposed change would impact candidates for municipal office.
The proposed new Campaign Reports and Finances ordinance, as presented to town councilors in January, would require local candidates and PACs to disclose who their campaign donors are, if they earn over $800 and $1,500, respectively, for their campaigns.
The purpose is to “enable the Town of Bar Harbor electorate to make informed decisions,” according to the preamble to the proposed ordinance, as well as “hold officeholders accountable, evaluate the merits of referenda, and prevent corruption.”
During the public hearing Jan. 15, College of the Atlantic Professor Jamie McKown spoke in favor of disclosure for PACs, but not for candidates.
“The role of money, I could feel pretty confident saying, is a problem at the federal and state level,” he said, “and we should have some legitimate concern about how it affects ballot initiatives on the local level. I have little evidence that there’s a huge amount of outside dark money flowing in to be spent on our candidates for municipal office.”
One thing McKown did see evidence of, he continued, is a lack of people running for local office. Many races go uncontested.
“Perhaps this ordinance as it applies to candidates could make things harder,” he said. “In a time when we wonder how to get more people to run for offices, I’m not sure adopting this for candidates is a good idea.”
McKown went on to tell counselors that the two Maine towns that have adopted the amendment, Standish, and Union, did so only for PACs. He recommended delaying the vote on the amendment as it pertained to candidates, until the council could discuss further.
Councilor Matthew Hochman commented, “If that is accurate, we are throwing up a barrier.”
Knight suggested to councilors that they table discussion, saying he would look into the effect of the proposed amendment on candidates