Bills preventing foreign entities from spending money in Maine elections and referendums are another front in the battle over the corridor. A trio of bills up for a public hearing on Monday in Augusta are squarely aimed at Hydro-Quebec, Central Maine Power’s partner in its controversial powerline project that will run through Maine. The company is owned by the province of Quebec.
It has been a major financier of opposition to referendums aimed at defeating the corridor project, spending $6.7 million alone on the first question. But that is only the direct campaign spending that has to be reported to the Maine Ethics Commission through the end of last year. Beyond that, Hydro-Quebec has resumed running ads in favor of the project this year after a lull in the fall, with bookings so far stretching into six figures.
It comes as another referendum campaign looking to block the corridor is set for the November election. This latest effort would require the Legislature to pass laws retroactively preventing projects of CMP’s size from being built in certain areas of the state. It is likely this push will also undergo several court battles and high-profile spending before it goes to voters. There are ongoing lawsuits over necessary permits for the project, which is under construction.
Each bill has similar language barring foreign involvement in elections to varying degrees. One targets only government entities, while others target all foreign nationals. The proposal from Rep. Kyle Bailey, D-Gorham, takes a further step in that it would explicitly bar media companies from airing the advertisements it seeks to prevent. Social media platforms would be required to remove those ads if they appear on platforms.
This issue is so far untested in the Maine Legislature, where CMP relied on Gov. Janet Mills and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers to kill anti-corridor bills in 2019. But the Legislature had to adjourn because of the coronavirus in 2020, kiboshing a bill aimed at this foreign money.
You can follow joint testimony on all three bills before the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs committee at 10 a.m. today.