Maine ballot referendum to halt the construction of a $1 billion cross-border corridor of high-impact electric transmission lines from Canada attracted more than $89 million in funds through ballot campaigns, more than any other referendum in Maine’s history, OpenSecrets’ analysis of campaign finance disclosures showed.
Supporters of the corridor poured more than $63 million fighting the ballot measure, dwarfing around $26.1 million raised by ballot committees opposing the corridor and supporting the measure’s passage.
Maine voters ultimately passed the ballot measure to halt the corridor’s construction on Nov. 2.
While most Mainers voted to stop construction, construction along the corridor was reportedly approved by the majority. continued the day after vote and the project is unlikely to see spending halt anytime soon since it’s likely money will be spent in upcoming legal battles as well as overcoming other hurdles.
The ballot measure’s passage marks the latest spar in a fight over the potential environmental and economic impact of the project, as well as the potential for undue foreign influence due to the companies involved in the project.
The 145-mile long transmission corridor, dubbed the New England Clean Energy Connect, would be owned by Central Maine Power Co. and used by Hydro-Québec to transmit electricity from hydroelectric plants in Quebec to electric utilities in the U.S.
The project will bring in more than $12 billion for the government-owned company. The Quebec government’s Premier François Legault says he is still “confident” the project will still be completed despite the vote.
The project has been in the works for years, but it is currently facing strong opposition from environmental groups. They are concerned about the possible impact on wildlife and fossil fuel interests. If the corridor is built, regional power market share could be affected.
U.S. corporations that held stakes in the construction and financing of the corridor heavily contributed to the record-breaking costs of the ballot referendum.
The top of the list is donorsFlorida-based energy company NextEra Energy Resources LLC is supporting the ballot initiative. OpenSecretsData shows.
While NextEra is the world’s largest operator of wind and solar projects, more than half of the company’s energy-generating capacity comes from nuclear reactors or plants that run on natural gas and other fossil fuels.
The company’s New England power plant and nuclear facility might face increased competition from the influx of power from the corridor.
NextEra is the largest donor to Mainers For Local Power, the main funding source of a Say No to CMP Corridor, a ballot committee that is run by Say No to NECEC. This nonprofit is behind the upcoming ballot measure.
Calpine, Vistra, and Vistra are other major opponents of the construction. Vistra has multiple natural gas plants located in New England.
Top donors pouring $63 million into opposing the referendum included NECEC Transmission LLC, NECEC’s U.S. parent company, the U.S. affiliate of Hydro Quebec and CMP’s Clean Energy Matters.
Foreign Agents Registration ActRecords reveal more details about the spending of the Canadian subsidiary that would be benefited from the passing of the measure. OpenSecretsAnalyse found.
The U.S. subsidiary of Hydro-Quebec Canada, a public utility company. HQ Energy ServicesIn the weeks leading up to the Nov.2 referendum, he created an army of foreign agents. These foreign agents received more than $2.5million in payments as part the influence operation since 2020.
FARA records show that disclosures were made to excess caution.
April 2020 registration recordsFor Blaze Partners detail their activities retroactively dating back to December 2019 with the goal of “a positive outcome on this ballot question when it comes to vote in November 2020.” When the 2020 vote did not take place, the contract was extended and services continued. Services included work “strategies to educate and inform Maine voters,” digital advertising, social media and “general campaign efforts,” according to FARA records.
HQ Energy ServicesYou can also enlist foreign agents Forbes Tate Partners2020. Forbes Tates’ FARA registration records from July 2020 show the high-powered lobbying firm was hired for “research, surveys, polling, and message development” and ended up conducting a range of public opinion surveys of voters in 2020 electionsAs well as other services related to voter tracking, ad track and social media.
HQ Energy Services signed a contract extension, increasing their spending, and detailing a new action plan on Nov. 2, 2020. This was just days after opponents to the corridor were granted permission to begin collecting signatures for a 2021 ballot. FARA recordsReview by OpenSecretsThis was the first time it was reported by Foreign Lobby ReportShow.
In August, the U.S. affiliate of the Canadian public utility company extended its signed contract through November with Forbes Tate worth up to $2.4 million to provide “digital advertising, voter outreach, and related research services” in Maine ahead of the election.
As Election Day and the referendum neared, HQ Energy Services’ spending on foreign agents accelerated. FARA records filed September 30 show that more than $1.67million went to advertising, text message and other related services between May 28 and Aug. 31.
In December, former Sen. Al D’Amato’s (R-N.Y.) firm, Park Strategies signed a $17,500-per-month contract to represent Hydro-Quebec’s interests as a subcontractor to Forbes Tate related to another project in New York.
The initial contract directs foreign agents at the firm to help entice “grassroots/grasstops advocates, stakeholders, and organizations to share messaging through earned/social media and advocacy activities” from November 2021 through January 2022 in support of the Champlain Hudson Power Express project in New York.
The project involves the construction of a 340-mile underground transmission line and an underwater transmission line to transport 1,250 Mw hydroelectric power from Canada to America.
The firm will also be expected to write op-eds and brief reporters, as well as organize virtual editorial board meetings.
The U.S. affiliate of the Canadian company’s spending on the ballot referendum has not been without controversy.
In January 2020, Hydro-Quebec admitted to violating state ethics laws by spending $100,000 to influence Maine voters without filing the necessary disclosures with the state’s ethics commission and was fined $35,000.
The Canadian company’s role has also sparked debate about whether companies with foreign government ownership should be allowed to spend on ballot referendums. Some opponents of the corridor’s construction have argued the company, whose sole shareholder is the government of Quebec, should be barred from spending on a ballot measure because of the risk of foreign interference.
“Foreign governments seeking to influence U.S. policy should not be allowed to circumvent diplomatic channels by spending money to directly influence policymakers,” Republican state Sen. Rick Bennett of Oxford, Maine told lawmakers during a public hearingIn March, it was noted that the policymakers in this instance are Maine voters who are able create laws using ballot measures.
Maine voters could also make a decision on that next year after the state’s governor vetoedA bill to prohibit foreign funding of ballot initiative in June.
Maine is not the only state grappling with foreign money financing of ballot initiatives.
The Federal Election Commission has ruled that foreign donors can fund U.S. ballot measures committees under federal campaign finance laws. reported by Axios.
Since the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) regulates “only candidate elections, not referenda or other issue-based ballot measures” and referenda are held on issues, the FEC found that ballotInitiatives are closer to issue advocacy, citing the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling in Bluman v. FEC that the foreign national prohibition is “closely tied to candidate advocacy and does not ban foreign nationals from engaging in issue advocacy.”
This means foreign companies can directly spend to influence voters and policy at the state level even while they cannot legally spend to influence candidates for public office — an idea that has already attracted criticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Rep. Mike Gallagher(R.Wis. condemned the decision for “further opening the floodgates to foreign money,” predicting that other countries like China may see the order as an invitation to start spending on ballot initiatives as part of their already robust influence operations.
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) called the foreign funding of ballot initiatives “a significant flaw in current federal election finance law, which could lead to hostile nations further influencing our democratic process if left unaddressed,” adding, “Congress must immediately take corrective action to explicitly ban foreign influence in campaigns, ballot initiatives, and elections of any kind.”
Ellen Weintraub, Democratic FEC Commissioner, told the Washington Post, “This should not be viewed as open season for foreigners to try to influence ballot initiatives that affect our voting process,” arguing that the scope of the rules should be clarified by federal statute.
A federal law could expand the types of elections covered by FECA’s foreign money to include ballot referenda.
A bill proposedSen. Kirsten Gillibrand(D-N.Y.), Wednesday, Stop Foreign Interference in Ballot Measures Act, would do exactly that. Rep. Katie Porter(D.Calif.) in March Following Gillibrand’s proposal, Sen. Marco Rubio(R.Fla. told Axiosto introduce similar legislation.
The FEC’s decision does not preclude states and local governments from implementing their own rules outlawing foreign funding of ballot committees.
At least seven states have passed laws banning foreign nationals funding ballot initiatives. Maine is one of many states that are considering new legislation to ban foreign nationals financing ballot initiatives.
However, a federal law could prohibit foreign spending on state or municipal ballot initiatives, regardless of whether the state or municipality has laws against.
U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies have already spent millions of dollars on American ballot measures and American elections to elect federal candidates.
Foreign-connected PACsThe PACs that are affiliated with foreign-owned companies, spent more than $24million on U.S. Elections during the 2020 Cycle with approximately $10.7 million going towards Democrats and $13.4million for Republicans.
Recent FEC opinions, court cases, and other legal decisions have highlighted the distinction between foreign and U.S. affiliates of foreign corporations spending on elections.
FEC was established in April. failed to find reason to believeFormer President receives $500,000 in donations Donald Trump’s inaugural committee from CITGO, a Venezuelan-owned oil company, violated the ban on political contributions from foreign nationals. In a statement of reasons, the FEC’s Republican commissioners argued that no violation occurred and that a Delaware-incorporated affiliate of the Venezuelan-owned oil company had “separate corporate personhood” from its foreign parent company.
The Supreme Court’s June 2020 decision in USAID v. Open Society further emphasized that “foreign organizations operating abroad have no First Amendment rights.” While the case itself did not directly involve campaign finance issues, the sweeping statement could have far-reaching implications and campaign finance considerationsDuring oral arguments in the case, they were present strongly.
Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who wrote the Court’s opinion, noted during oral arguments that if the Supreme Court ruling against the federal government’s ability to limit free speech of foreign corporations in other contexts may “unleash foreign affiliates of U.S. corporations to pump money into” elections.