A key legislative committee has advanced a proposal that seeks to keep foreign money out of Maine's referendum process.
On Friday, the Legislature's Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs voted 10-2 to approve legislation that would prohibit companies that are 10% or more foreign owned from spending money on political advertising on ballot questions. The measure now heads to the full Legislature for consideration.
Backers of the proposal say the state needs to close a loophole that allows foreign corporations to pour money into campaigns aimed at swaying Maine voters on major public policy decisions.
The move is aimed at Hydro-Quebec's efforts to promote construction of a 145-mile hydropower transmission line through the state.
Critics say the ban would cut off a vital source of funding to promote the project, which calls for providing up to 1,200 megawatts of Canadian Hydro power to the New England region.
Backers say the project will create jobs, help green the regional power grid and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are contributing to a warming planet.
Opponents say it will carve through scenic swathes of forest in the North Maine Woods, damaging the environment and leading to a loss of jobs and recreational tourism.
Both sides have waged a costly and bitter public relations war for several years over the details of the project, and whether it will negatively impact the state and its ratepayers.
Meanwhile, opponents are inching toward the November ballot with a referendum that would stop the project. Political observers expect a crush of spending on advertising from both sides.
Sandi Howard, who heads the No CMP Corridor PAC, said the company has spent more than $22 million to promote the project. That is more than what the company is seeking as part of a proposed rate increase for its customers, she added.
"It's truly stunning to see how little this company actually cares about the great state of Maine and its people," Howard said. "On one hand, CMP expects Mainers to pay more for worst-in-the-nation service, and on the other hand, CMP is funneling tens of millions into a campaign to promote a $3 billion contract with customers in a different state."