Senator Luchini, Representative Caiazzo, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs. My name is Pete Didisheim. I am the Advocacy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and I appreciate this opportunity to testify on behalf of our more than 25,000 members and supporters in support of LD 194, An Act To Prohibit Contributions, Expenditures and Participation by Foreign Government-owned Entities To Influence Referenda.
This bill would close a loophole in Maine law that allows foreign government-owned corporations to spend unlimited resources to influence the outcome of referenda votes. A glaring example of the problem that this bill would fix can be seen in the $10 million that Hydro-Quebec has spent over the past 16 months in an effort to meddle in Maine’s elections.
Hydro-Quebec should not be misconstrued as simply a foreign-based company. That’s not what it is. Hydro-Quebec is a state-owned enterprise established by the Government of Quebec in 1944 to generate revenues that go directly to the Province of Quebec. In 2020, Hydro-Quebec provided $3.6 billion to its sole shareholder, the Government of Quebec. That was the equivalent of more than 90 percent of Maine’s General Fund budget of $3.9 billion in 2020.
The financial interests of Hydro-Quebec and the Province of Quebec are deeply intertwined. That’s why both entities have been intensely focused on preventing Maine lawmakers and Maine voters from taking any action that would hamper or terminate the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), also known as the CMP corridor. That project, as you know, would deliver electricity across Maine on a 145-mile transmission line between Quebec and Massachusetts. Hydro-Quebec stands to make more than $12 billion over 20 years through a highly lucrative contract with Massachusetts for the NECEC, and Quebec – the government, communities, and taxpayers of the Province – would benefit enormously from this steady revenue source.
The loophole in Maine law would allow similar campaign activities by any foreign nation that has government-owned corporations, like France, Norway, China, or Russia. For the sake of argument, let’s assume we were witnessing a massive campaign not by Quebec, to our north, but the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, to our south. Would we sit idle if a company that provided all of its profits to the State of Massachusetts did the following actions here in Maine to influence votes on the CMP corridor – because all of the following actions describe Hydro-Quebec’s campaign:
- Spending $10 million on media, polling, voter identification, and consultants;
- Failing to provide accurate, legal campaign reports, resulting in a $35,000 ethics fine;
- Changing the address of the campaign in an attempt to hide the fact that the campaign was connected to a government-owned corporation by changing the address to another jurisdiction;
- Hiring one of the top ten most expensive DC lobbying firms;
- Relentless print advertising in Maine’s newspapers, including 54 full-page and 32 half-page ads between January and August 2020 alone – more than any other political entity during that period;
- Lobbying to defeat proposed legislation that would curb their campaign in Maine; and
- Dismissing letters from Maine lawmakers calling on the company to stop meddling in Maine’s elections.
If campaign activities such as these were done by a company owned by the State of Massachusetts, I believe Maine voters would be furious. They would want to close any loophole that was allowing it to happen. We should be no less furious with Hydro-Quebec. You have before you in LD 194 the remedy to close the loophole that allows government-owned corporations to run campaign operations in Maine.
This shouldn’t even be a close call. Hydro-Quebec created its PAC in November 2019 for the express purpose of influencing the opinion of Maine voters on a project that would generate billions in profits for Quebec. The financial interests of Quebec’s citizens should not be allowed to fuel a political campaign targeted at telling Maine people how they should vote.
We urge the Committee to pass LD 194. The Hydro-Quebec Maine Partnership should be banned from spending money in Maine to influence Maine citizens who are simply pursuing their constitutional rights to affect Maine law through the referendum process.
Attached to my testimony is a detailed analysis of Hydro-Quebec’s campaign operations in Maine over the past 16 months. I appreciate the opportunity to provide these comments and would be glad to answer any questions you may have.