Over the last 16 months, something rotten has happened: A foreign corporation owned 100 percent by a foreign government funneled a record-smashing amount – $10 million – into a political action committee to influence the outcome of an election here in Maine. This affront to our freedom occurred in plain sight, and it needs to stop. That’s why, last week, I presented to the Maine Legislature my bill to prohibit foreign government-owned entities from meddling in our elections.
Many Mainers turned out to testify in support of my bill, but there were two groups of note who testified in opposition – Hydro-Quebec and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. While they didn’t directly testify, Central Maine Power followed up closely by making known their opposition to my bill. Their strong opposition is undoubtedly fueled by their desire to make $3 billion off the Central Maine Power corridor, a deeply unpopular project unlikely to survive a statewide vote, particularly without vast campaign cash from beyond our borders.
Hydro-Quebec’s participation in the public hearing was especially ironic, given that they refused to appear before any of our regulatory bodies to testify under oath about the CMP corridor project, from which they stand to make $12.4 billion. If this project goes through, it would be Hydro-Quebec’s largest export contract to date, and it would help this government-owned utility reach its goal of doubling profits by 2030.
During questioning, Sophie Brochu, CEO of Hydro-Quebec, defended their involvement in our referendum process, despite the fact that foreign interference is illegal in their own elections. She said, “When we have a referendum in Quebec, or in Canada, it’s really a big thing, politically loaded, very heavy and the impact can have politically wise in the country.” But, by her logic, since our referenda are initiated by the people, they carry less weight and shouldn’t be afforded the same protections as Canadian referendums.
Ms. Brochu also compared Hydro-Quebec, a multibillion-dollar-per-year crown corporation, to a duck, saying that barring their campaign spending here in Maine would be like clipping their wings and setting them in front of a hunting blind (the voters). I would argue that a more appropriate avian analogy would be an ostrich with its head in the sand, oblivious to reality.
Both America and Canada recognize that foreign influence has no place in elections, the cornerstone of any democracy. Whether that influence comes from a friendly neighbor, or a hostile enemy, it’s dangerous just the same.
While Hydro-Quebec’s opposition to my bill was predictable, nothing speaks to the rottenness more than our own chamber of commerce using their political capital to shill for foreign governments. Last year, the chamber signed on to the lawsuit to strip Mainers of the right to vote on the CMP corridor. Now they’re demanding that we give a bullhorn to a foreign government to drown out the voice of Maine people.
According to testimony, the chamber believes that we must share our rights of self-determination with foreign governments. This raises the question: How much money does the Maine State Chamber of Commerce receive from foreign companies like Hydro-Quebec, Avangrid and CMP? And who are they really serving?
The chamber claims to be the voice for 5,000 Maine businesses, but they’re willing to turn a blind eye to the extensive harm the CMP corridor would cause Maine businesses in the renewable-energy, biomass, logging and tourism sectors. The chamber’s ongoing efforts to back large, foreign-owned corporations over businesses owned and operated by Mainers is deeply misguided and indefensible.
David Flanagan, executive chairman of the least-liked utility in the nation, has urged the committee to reject my bill, claiming that Hydro-Quebec’s ability to spend money to influence Maine voters is crucial for “cross-border collaboration,” but the level of spending Mainers have endured feels more like an attempt at cross-border domination in the name of corporate profit.
While it’s the Province of Quebec today, it could very easily be China or Russia exploiting this staggering loophole tomorrow. We cannot allow foreign countries the ability to continue to meddle in our elections in Maine.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Richard A. Bennett, R-Oxford, is a Maine state senator and sponsor of L.D. 194, An Act To Prohibit Contributions, Expenditures and Participation by Foreign Government-owned Entities To Influence Referenda.