Last November, the people of Bangor and Hermon elected me to represent them in the Maine Senate. It’s the honor of a lifetime to serve the citizens of these great communities in this way, and I’m confident in saying that the election was fair and free of any undue foreign influence because our laws protect Mainers from it in all candidate elections.
But since being elected, I have learned that the foreign government interference prohibition that protects the integrity of candidate elections in our state does not extend to citizen-initiated referendums and that a foreign government has exposed this dangerous loophole and has since spent a record sum to influence the outcome of an election in our state.
The right to vote is deeply ingrained in the very fabric of our country. It’s the cornerstone of our democracy, which is why it is reserved solely for the citizens of this country. As a lawmaker, I’m sensitive to the fact that when a voter casts a ballot, it’s important that they have faith in the safeguards put in place to protect the integrity of that election. That’s why allowing the government of a foreign country, whether it be Canada, China or Russia, to openly spend money to influence an election of any kind in this state is unacceptable.
Last year, Hydro-Quebec, a crown corporation owned solely by the province of Quebec, did something that, as far as I know, has never been done before. It opened a political action committee to spend money against a referendum that was initiated by the citizens of Maine. It did this even though, as a foreign government-owned entity, it’s strictly prohibited from influencing other types of elections in Maine, and it’s similarly illegal for foreign nationals to participate in referendum elections in Quebec.
What we’ve witnessed since is shocking, and regardless of how you feel about the corridor project or the current referendum, Hydro-Quebec’s actions in our state highlight just how dangerous this loophole is. Over the last year, Hydro-Quebec has waged an aggressive campaign to influence Maine voters with spending surpassing all previous records for Maine referendum campaigns.
Hydro-Quebec’s PAC has also come under fire a number of times. The Maine Ethics Commission cited Hydro-Quebec for serious campaign finance law violations, for which it was assessed the second-largest fine ever issued by the commission for spending nearly $100,000 to influence Maine voters before registering with the state.
A number of Hydro-Quebec’s ads have also gained attention for their deceptive nature. For example, in February of last year, it ran a two-page ad in Maine newspapers featuring images from Baxter State Park, falsely implying a partnership between the park and Hydro-Quebec. In response, Friends of Baxter State Park issued a statement that said, “To use Baxter State Park as part of a campaign to build a transmission line through the Maine woods is exactly the type of outside interference that Gov. Baxter feared.”
Rather than issue an apology, Hydro-Quebec continues to put out misleading ad after misleading ad.
As you can see, this foreign government-owned company has been using its influence (millions of dollars) in ways that deceive Maine voters and violate our election laws. Hydro-Quebec hasn’t operated in good faith, and it’s owned by our friendly neighbors to the north. I can’t imagine what a campaign bankrolled by a less-friendly foreign nation would look like, which is why I don’t see this bill as being about the corridor project at all, but rather about responsible governance and sound policy.
Regardless of how my colleagues in the Senate feel about the corridor issue itself, I certainly hope that we can all band together to support L.D. 194 when it comes up for a vote next week. We owe it to our constituents to do the right thing. The time to close this dangerous loophole is now.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joe Baldacci is a Democratic state senator from Bangor.