Senator Luchini, Representative Schneck, 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 26,000 members and supporters in support of LD 2136, An Act To Prohibit Contributions, Expenditures and Participation by Foreign Nationals To Influence Referenda.
This bill is being considered at a time when Americans are deeply concerned about foreign influence in U.S. elections. Just last week eight U.S. federal agencies warned Americans of the possibility of foreign interference ahead of Super Tuesday’s elections.
Here in Maine, we don’t have to look far to identify a foreign entity—Hydro-Quebec—attempting to influence Maine policy and elections.
Established by the Government of Quebec in 1944, Hydro-Quebec is a state-owned enterprise that provides billions of dollars annually to the Province of Quebec. In 2018, Hydro-Quebec paid $2.4 billion in dividends to Quebec, its sole shareholder.
The financial interests of Hydro-Quebec and the Province of Quebec are deeply intertwined, and both entities are 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. The highly controversial CMP corridor 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 lucrative contract with Massachusetts for the NECEC, and Quebec would receive billions in annual dividends.[i]
However, the fate of the CMP corridor is in doubt because Maine people strongly oppose it:
- Twenty-five Maine towns have voted to rescind their support for the CMP corridor or to oppose the project. Most recently, Emden voted last Saturday by a 5:1 margin to oppose the project. This level of opposition by Maine towns is unprecedented.
- Sixty-five percent of Maine people oppose the CMP corridor, with opposition in Franklin and Somerset Counties exceeding 80 percent, according to 2019 polling.
- Both the Franklin County Commissioners and the Somerset County Commissioners have voted to oppose the project, as have two of Maine’s largest unions.
And how has Hydro-Quebec responded? By working in this building and through the media to block opposition to the project. First, it hired a lobbyist last year who worked to defeat three CMP-related bills (LD 640, LD 1383, and LD 1363).[ii] These bills collectively received 16 bipartisan majority votes, yet all three were defeated due to lobbying by Hydro-Quebec and CMP (see attached). Now Hydro-Quebec is working to prevent Maine voters from blocking the NECEC at the ballot box. The company created the Hydro-Quebec Maine Partnership PAC, which needs to be viewed as an instrument of the Province of Quebec.
Hydro-Quebec created its PAC in November 2019, to oppose the citizen-initiated ballot measure aimed at terminating the CMP corridor project. The Hydro-Quebec PAC spent $307,099 in the last two months of 2019 alone. In January, the Hydro-Quebec PAC was fined $35,000 by the Maine Ethics Commission for spending $100,000 before registering with the state, a violation of Maine’s campaign finance laws.[iii]
As scrutiny of Hydro-Quebec’s PAC has increased, [iv] Hydro-Quebec has tried to make the PAC seem less foreign. On January 22, 2020, the company changed its address from Montreal to Hartford, CT, yet its Treasurer and Principal Officer remain located in Montreal (see attached).
The Hydro-Quebec PAC has been running a stream of full-page ads in Maine newspapers, initially with a Montreal disclaimer[v], then suddenly with a Connecticut disclaimer.[vi] The HQ PAC also is running digital ads and sponsored a centerfold ad in the Maine Today newspapers two weeks ago with an image of Baxter State Park and a message implying that Maine and Quebec are united in supporting the NECEC.[vii] That ad received a strong rebuke from Friends of Baxter State Park.[viii]
Although Hydro-Quebec has been eager to pay for lobbyists and a PR campaign to influence Maine voters, officials from Hydro-Quebec have refused to participate in any legislative, regulatory, or public proceeding involving the CMP corridor.[ix] HQ also has failed to provide any verifiable evidence that the NECEC would actually reduce global carbon pollution, its central claim.
This shouldn’t even be a close call. Hydro-Quebec and its owner, the Province of Quebec, are exploiting a loophole in Maine’s campaign finance laws. Federal law prohibits this type of influence campaign, and so should Maine law. The Hydro-Quebec Maine Partnership PAC should be banned from attempting to influence Maine voters as they pursue their constitutional rights to affect Maine law through the referendum process.
I appreciate the opportunity to testify on this bill and would be glad to answer any questions.
[i] The money at stake in the battle over CMP’s 145-mile electric line, Josh Keefe, Bangor Daily News, 6/10/2019,
[ii] 2019 lobbyist, Walton External Affairs, LLC, Tim Walton; 2020 lobbyist Capitol Strategies, Michele MacLean
[iii] Hydro-Quebec pays $35K ethics fine stemming from effort to save Maine corridor, Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News, 1/29/2020
[iv] Questions Swirl On Foreign Influence In Maine Elections As Canadian Energy Company Readies Campaign, Steve Mistler, Maine Public, 12/13/2019.
[v] Portland Press Herald, 1/14/2020, pA3.
[vi] Portland Press Herald, 2/25/2020, pA3.
[vii] Notably absent from the ad was a picture of the 6 million acres (the size of New Hampshire) of forestland and habitat flooded by HQ’s massive complex of dams.
[viii] Friends of Baxter State Park: Cherished park not part of power line debate, Ellen Baum, Portland Press Herald, 3/3/2020.
[ix] Hydro-Quebec refused all requests by New Hampshire state agencies to appear as part of the Northern Pass project proceedings, a precursor to the NECEC, which was defeated in NH. HQ has refused to participate in any NECEC proceedings in Maine and backed out of public meeting in Jay, ME last summer.