Bennett bill takes aim at foreign interference
You might not think so looking at my rap sheet, but I’m a guy who takes foreign influence on our country seriously. There was a time when America essentially ruled the world, and we extended our influence far and wide. But those days are over, as both Hollywood and the NBA take their marching orders from Beijing these days. Maybe it’s just globalism. But when it strikes close to home, it’s harder to simply ignore or write off as the way of the world.
A foreign power spent millions in Maine recently to sway votes and it was all perfectly legal. That’s right, the Canadian government-owned Hydro-Quebec plowed some $10 million into advertising supporting the CMP energy corridor at the polls last year. Is it because they are great neighbors and want us to have lower-cost power? No, it’s because they stand to gain $12 billion from the project.
While Hydro-Quebec appears to have filed with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Foreign Agent Registration act regime (disclosure alert, I once pleaded guilty for failure to do this), that did nothing to curb its outsized influence in Maine. All it really accomplished was to advertise how expensive the lobbyists the Quebecoise state-owned company hired actually were. In DC lingo, that’s how the big guy tells the little guy to go kick their can down another road.
The practical concern to us Mainers is the road the Canadians want to use to sell their power across New England happens to be our state.
Fortunately, there are some in Augusta who don’t take kindly to this kind of bullying. State Senator Rick Bennett (R-Oxford) has introduced emergency legislation to close the loophole in the Maine state ethics law that allows a foreign government to play, indeed attempt to dominate, state politics in order to get their way. In doing so, he’s drawn to his side some powerful allies, including the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which told Maine Public Radio that Bennett’s bill should be a “no-brainer” for any legislator still undecided.
Unlike in America, where the referendum process at the state level allows citizens to enact laws, in Canada only the government can initiate legislation. So Hydro-Quebec’s activism in favor of the corridor essentially weaponizes our own freedoms against us. Viewed through such a lens, it is downright sinister.
When the mainstream media regaled us for years with tales of Russians swinging our national elections and colluding with one side, many went rightly apoplectic. (The Mueller report found no collusion and the instances of Russian interference it did document paled in comparison to Hydro-Quebec’s effort).
So why is their a double standard? Could it be that Vladimir Putin really is evil (he actually is) while Justin Trudeau looks so cute he couldn’t possibly be? Seems a silly question, but perhaps it’s not far off the mark. Not since Michael Moore’s 1995 film “Canadian Bacon,” have our Trudeau-puppy-like northern neighbors been portrayed as a menace (and even in that fictional setup, it was a risible idea). Could they possibly mean us harm?
If you are concerned about the gradual ceding of Maine sovereignty to whoever has the biggest bucks (even if they’re still 20% less), there are little things you can do. Today I discontinued a home propane supply contract with a Canadian-owned company, and went out of my way not to buy gas at Irving. But neither of my infinitesimally little moves will stall the Maple Leaf juggernaut. No that requires our legislators to step up to the plate and support Bennett’s emergency bill.
If the federal government won’t, or can’t, protect states from foreign encroachment, then states must protect themselves. When all the disclosures are read and all the facts on the table, if Mainers still want the CMP corridor, fine, so be it. But if we’re going to light our hair on fire about one kind of foreign interference, it would be dishonest to turn a blind eye to the other.
By Sam Patten | Mar 16, 2021