Governor Janet Mills has vetoed a bill that would have barred entities owned by foreign governments from influencing ballot campaigns with advertising and other forms of electioneering.
The proposal was inspired by Hydro-Quebec’s roughly $10 million in spending to convince Maine voters to defeat referendums that would scuttle Central Maine Power’s controversial transmission project. Hydro-Quebec, wholly owned by the government of Quebec, is the electricity supplier for the project.
Mills, a supporter of the CMP project, said in her veto message that the bill that cleared the House and Senate was “offensive” to the democratic process and could potentially prohibit Maine companies with ownership by foreign governments from electioneering.
The bill would have applied to companies with 10% or more of foreign government ownership and drafters of the bill purposely struck language that would have made the electioneering prohibition apply to companies with foreign investment or ownership, despite calls to include them from interest groups that viewed the proposal as a way to limit corporate influence in elections.
Supporters of the bill argued that it closed a loophole in Maine election law exploited by Hydro-Quebec, which only prohibits foreign influence in campaigns involving candidates.
Several states have adopted similar measures and Canada now has a broad prohibition on foreign influence in elections that includes referendums.
The bill passed with wide margins in the House and Senate, although the House vote was not enough to represent a supermajority. Supermajorities in the House and Senate would be needed to override the governor’s veto when the Legislature returns next week.