Chellie Pingree’s Questionnaire

Your name:  Chellie Pingree
Your social media sites:
http://www.facebook.com/PingreeForCongress

Money & Government

1. Would you vote for a constitutional amendment designed to nullify the effects of the Citizen United Supreme Court decision?

Yes.

It’s crazy that the Constitution has to be amended to clarify what for the majority of Americans is a clear and true statement: corporations are not people. But that’s where we find ourselves today.

It’s only been two years since the Supreme Court decided Citizens United, but we have already felt the devastating impact of the rollback of campaign finance reform. The 2010 midterm election was the most expensive in history, and corporate special interests spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to elect people who would further line the pockets of big business.

Citizens United opened the door even further to allow Big Money to influence the political process. Corporations can now make unlimited campaign contributions from their general fund, allowing them to spend their customers’ and shareholders’ money on campaigns without consent or notice. In my home state of Maine, we’ve seen out-of-state groups with anonymous donors spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to campaign against issues that don’t fit their agenda.

In Maine we are fortunate to have a Clean Elections system that allows legislators to turn down corporate special interest money. At the national level, Congress should follow Maine’s example by empowering the voices of small donors. Legislation I have authored, the bipartisan Fair Elections Now Act, would implement nationally what we have in Maine: a small-donor matching fund program to put citizens in charge of elections.

While a small-donor system nationally won’t solve every problem, it will help. For a Washington already dominated by big business and special interests, the Citizens United decision has added yet another hurdle to preventing regular people from making their voices heard. The core of our democracy is that everyone has an equal voice—to speak and to be heard. Citizens United undermines that key value by allowing corporations to spend enough money for their “speech” to drown out everyone else’s.

Corporations serve an important purpose, but telling people how to vote isn’t one of them. I’m more than happy to work with them to keep our economy growing and healthy, and to hear their feedback on policies. But their view should be balanced with those of the workers they employ, the customers they serve, and everyone else whose decisions they affect—for good or bad. We shouldn’t allow them any more opportunities to use money to tilt that arrangement in their favor.

Unlike Mitt Romney, I don’t think corporations are people. Giving rights to a legal arrangement simply doesn’t pass the straight-face test. (Most Americans agree, as recent surveys show.) Sadly, it seems we have to rewrite the Constitution to make that the law of the land, which is why I support a Constitutional amendment to declare what we already know: that the rights protected by the Constitution are those of people, not corporations.

Now more than ever, Washington needs to stem the flow of big money into the political process and loosen the hold of powerful lobbyists. But Citizens United has severely weakened our ability to do so. As a Congress, our focus should be on families trying to make a living in tough economic times—not big corporations trying to influence lawmakers so they can squeeze out more profit.

We need to fix Citizens United so we can get back to that.

2. Who are your top three donors?

I follow the campaign finance rules of the Bi-Partisan Campaign Reform Act, and only accept a maximum of $2,500 per individuals per election and $5,000 from political action committees per year.

During the 2012 cycle, 3,122 individuals contributed to my campaign to date.  PAC contributions represent less than ten percent of the funding that my campaign has raised for the 2012 cycle.

For the 2012 cycle, the top donors are currently:

  1. Laborer’s Political League: $10,000
  2. Credit Union Legislative Council:   $5,000

C.  League of Conservation Voters:   $4,000

3. What level of campaign finance disclosure do you think is necessary? Do you believe it’s acceptable for candidates to accept money from super PACs?

Our entire campaign finance system needs reform. I believe we need a three prong approach to fixing the system: First we must pass a constitutional amendment undoing the Citizens United case, second we need to pass the DISCLOSE (Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections) Act to improve transparency in campaign finance, and third we need to create a federal public financing system, much like what we have in Maine, by passing the Fair Elections Now Act

4. Would you support a jobs bill similar to the American Jobs Act proposed by President Obama earlier this year? Do you have a proposal to create jobs that offers a fresh approach?

I was, and still am, a strong supporter of the American Jobs Act.

And, I do believe we need innovative solutions to creating new jobs.  Consumers are driving an increased demand for healthy, locally produced food. More and more families are seeing the benefits of eating healthy, local food and would much rather see their money go to the farmer down the road than an international conglomerate.

With small, diversified family farms deep in our roots, Maine is in an especially good place to capitalize on this shift. But for decades federal agriculture policy has choked out the little guy to favor bigger and bigger industrial farms that produce just a few commodity crops.

Last fall, I introduced H.R. 3286, the Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Act, to support the local-food movement. It has over 65 cosponsors in the House and Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio has introduced a companion bill, S.1773, in the Senate.

H.R. 3286 is a package of reforms and new programs that will encourage production of local food  –not only by helping local farmers and ranchers become more profitable and productive, but also by helping consumers buy locally through improved distribution systems. It introduces several commonsense reforms to the Farm Bill, including investing in infrastructure, creating insurance plans for diversified farm, helping schools buy local food, and allowing customers to use SNAP cards at farmers markets.

Making it easier for farmers to sell food locally and easier for consumers to buy it translates directly into a more healthy economy and more jobs in our communities.  Consumers want to be able to buy fresh, healthy food that doesn’t have to travel half way around the world to get to them, we just need to create a farm policy in this country that makes it easier for them to do that.

The bill modifies nine of the sixteen titles of the farm bill.  Some of those changes include proposals that:

  • Provide funding to help farmers build the infrastructure—like slaughterhouses—to process and sell their food locally.
  • Require USDA to keep doing traditional seed research, not just on genetically modified seeds.
  • Create a new crop insurance program tailored to the needs of organic farmers and diversified farmers who grow a wide variety of crops and can’t easily access traditional crop insurance.
  • Break down barriers for schools and institutions to procure local food more easily. Provide schools with a local school credit to purchase local foods, as well as fix out-dated federal policies that inhibit schools from purchasing local food.
  • Make it easier for food stamp recipients to spend their money at farmers markets by giving the farmers access to technology necessary to accept electronic benefits—that money goes right back into the local economy.  The bill includes a pilot program to test smart phone technology to accept food stamp benefits at farmers market.

5. In your opinion, what was the primary cause of the financial crisis of 2008 and the subsequent recession and unemployment crisis? Was the recent financial reform legislation passed by Congress sufficient to prevent another financial crisis like the one in 2008? If not, what else should be done?

Over the last three years I have heard from countless Mainers sharing their concerns about our financial regulation system that has allowed many on Wall Street to gamble with their livelihoods and defraud consumers, leading to the deep economic downturn we have experienced and contributing to the loss of eight million jobs. An important step toward ensuring greater regulation of the financial markets is by placing a high priority on corporate responsibility and government accountability.

I share the concerns of many Maine people that the reckless practices of large financial institutions have contributed to the economic problems our country now faces. That is why I was proud to support the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. One of the most important provisions of this legislation was the establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which will serve as an independent watchdog agency to protect consumers and regulate big banks and credit card companies.  I believe that especially in this time of economic difficulty, Congress must stand up to defend the rights of hard-working Americans against unfair practices of financial institutions.

6. What has the Occupy movement accomplished so far? Name 3 accomplishments.

  1. Frustration with our broken financial system fueled protests, first on Wall Street and then across the country that drew our national focus to the growing wealth disparity in the United States.  The Occupy Movement drew attention to the increasing power and influence that the wealthiest Americans have on our political and economic system, and created a new lexicon for these issues:  the 99% and the 1%.
  1. The Occupy movement made crippling student debt a national issue, and put it on the President’s agenda.
  1. The Occupy movement set a new standard for public debate about income inequality and the corporate takeover of our national political system.

I am committed to fighting against the income inequality gap. I believe that especially in this time of economic difficulty, Congress must stand up to defend the rights of hard-working Americans against unfair practices of financial institutions. The Occupy movement underlines this necessity.

7. Would you support the following policies in the interest of reducing wealth inequality, Yes/No* *If no- why?

  • Increasing taxes on the wealthiest 1%: Yes
  • Repealing the carried-interest tax break: Yes
  • A financial transaction tax on the purchase of stocks, derivatives and futures (with an exemption for retirement accounts):  Yes

P.S. What is your tax rate and/or bracket? ___% ___

I fully adhere to the requirements of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978.  Under these rules, I file annual reports disclosing my personal finances and all sources of income.

8. Do you support the following workers’ rights policies, Yes/No* *If no – why?

  • A mandate for paid sick days: Yes
  • A living wage mandate: Yes
  • Worker’s right to organize a union: Yes

P.S. What dollar amount do you think is a living wage?

$16.94 for a family of one adult and one child

9. The recent emphasis on deficit reduction in Washington will likely lead to widespread cuts in government spending. What’s one program or government agency for which you would not be willing to reduce funding? What is one program or government agency you would be willing to reduce funding? (1 paragraph)

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is an efficient and highly effective program that provides critical assistance to many thousands of Maine families and seniors who depend on these funds to heat their homes during cold Northeast winters. The program currently helps nearly 65,000 Maine households make ends meet by offsetting home-heating costs.  Funding is especially important for Maine since our state has some of the country’s oldest housing stock and is heavily dependent on oil for heating.  Maine families simply cannot afford to see further cuts in LIHEAP. President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget proposed to cut funding for LIHEAP in half, from $5.1 to $2.57 billion. Under this proposal, Maine’s estimated allocation would have dropped from $54.3 million in FY2011 to $26.5 million in FY2012. I firmly believe we cannot allow this kind of drastic cut to go into effect and joined several of my colleagues in the 112th Congress in urging the House Appropriations Committee to fully fund LIHEAP. As communities in Maine and across the country continue to struggle with rising energy costs and a difficult economy, LIHEAP is more important than ever to help families avoid having to choose between paying their energy bills and paying for other basic necessities like food and health care.

What we can cut?

I believe we must work towards reducing the national debt; however, we must be careful in these cuts to ensure that we do not hurt our economic recovery and struggling middle class families. Maine communities are still struggling in the down economy, and slashing funding for critical programs makes it even harder for those who are struggling the most—students, seniors, veterans and the middle class.

Congress has a responsibility to reduce the size of the federal deficit and I believe we must work together on commonsense and effective ideas to becoming more fiscally responsible. Deficit reduction should not take place on the backs of our state’s most vulnerable residents.  I look forward to working with my colleagues to make sure we find sustainable budgetary solutions and help get our economy back on track.

10. Would you support filibuster reform? If so, how?

I believe the filibuster and the Senate rules need reform. The current system gives too much power to the minority, allowing it to slow, or in most cases, stop progress on major legislation. I hope my colleagues in the Senate are able to reform the filibuster and their rules to ensure a more democratic process.

11. Maine has the second highest student loan debt in the country#. What would you do to alleviate this burden on young people?

As a parent, grandparent, and former chair of my school board, I care deeply about the issues surrounding education in this country. As a Member of Congress, I am well aware of the many challenges that our education system faces. My colleagues and I in the 112th Congress have worked to expand access to higher education and ensure that those who want to pursue higher education can do so without entering into impossible debt. I am a co-sponsor of several bills, including H.R. 3624 the Student Loan Default Prevention Act, H.R. 3826 which amends the Higher Education Act of 1965 to extend the reduced interest rate for Federal Direct Stafford Loans and H.R. 4170 the Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012.  These bills would make important and needed reforms in the student loan system.

12. What would you do to reform farm subsidies in order to promote local agriculture and avoid giveaways to agribusiness? What else should be done to reform federal or state agriculture policy? What would you do to get more Maine-produced food on Maine tables?

In addition to my work on the Local Farms Food and Jobs Act described above, and as an organic farmer and a member of the House Agriculture Committee I am proud to advocate for policies that benefit Maine’s farmers and improve the health of consumers.

Unfortunately, agribusiness subsidies for commodities like corn, soy, rice and cotton artificially inflate the market and adds billions to the national deficit Subsidized processed sugary foods and beverages are contributing to record levels of obesity and diabetes — the real costs for soda, sweets, fats and oils have dropped over the past 20 years while prices for fruits and vegetables increased nearly 40 percent. That is why I support moving funds from subsidizing corn, soy, sugar, and other big crops to instead support protecting local farmers who grow healthy alternatives for their community, which is why I was proud to introduce the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act in 2011. It my hope that we will use the upcoming farm bill to reform subsidies for large scale agriculture and reinvest a small portion of that funding to growing our local food economy.

Farming in Maine is a true economic force, adding $2 billion a year to the state’s economy. Maine’s independent, diverse farms represent a growing component that brings tangible economic benefits to our state.  Independent farming represents a real opportunity for Maine’s future and I look forward to making sure Maine’s farming community can continue to grow.

The War on Terror, Religion, Women & Health

13. Do you believe we are engaged in a global war on terror? If so, how will we know when it ends?

I often hear from Maine people, and from people around the country, who want to keep our country safe and bring our troops home.  For the first time in nine years, the United States does not have troops fighting in Iraq. President Barack Obama fulfilled his promise to end the war in Iraq as part of an overall strategy to rebalance America’s national security priorities—and now it is time to end the war in Afghanistan.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken a toll on our economy and our families—and they’re not making us any safer. The country can’t afford the billions of dollars we spend every month on these wars. Our men and women in uniform have served bravely and honorably, but they and their families have paid a high price. It’s time to bring them home.

I voted against the supplemental war-funding bills in the House because the loss of American lives in Afghanistan is unacceptable, and the hundreds of billions of dollars being spent on the wars would be better used reducing the deficit and helping our economy recover.  We spend $7 billion a month on the war in Afghanistan and every day it becomes more and more clear that we are pursuing a failed strategy that doesn’t make America any safer.

14. Explain your opinion of each of the following counterterrorism policies: (2-3 sentences each)

  • Indefinite detention of terrorism suspects I do not support indefinite detention of terrorism suspects.  Imprisoning or detaining people indefinitely without charge or trial is illegal, does not reflect our values as Americans, and does not achieve justice.
  • Extrajudicial executions/assassinations of American citizens (such as that of Anwar al-AlWaki) by decree of the president I support clear legal standards for extrajudicial executions and assassinations.  These extraditions and killings need clear evidence to support that these extreme actions protect our national security rather than eroding our rights as individuals.
  • Using military tribunals rather than the civilian criminal justice system to try federal terrorism suspects I agree with the President.  Federal terrorism suspects should be prosecuted in our federal courts.  If there is not enough evidence for prosecution and conviction in an American court, we should not have the ability to detain terrorism suspects indefinitely.
  • Torture or “enhanced interrogation” tactics I do not support the use of torture or enhanced interrogation tactics.  We must prosecute and seek conviction of terrorism suspects in our federal courts.  The use of torture is unacceptable, erodes America’s standing in the world and weakens our own legal system.

15. An increasing number of candidates are invoking religion as part of their campaign. Do you believe this is acceptable and do you plan to invoke religion in your own campaign? Why or why not? What role should religion play in campaigns and in shaping public policy?

I support the First Amendment of the Constitution, which states:  ”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

I strongly believe in every American’s right to exercise their freedom of religion without the influence or interference of the government.   While many of us are guided by our own religious and spiritual beliefs, I do not believe that the tenets of one particular religion or another should have precedence in shaping public policy.

16. Do you feel the need to take a proactive stance against the anti-choice agenda? How would you effectively frame your argument to religious women?

I firmly believe in a woman’s right to choose and her right to have access to affordable birth control.  Just hours after Congressional Republicans held a hearing to discuss women’s access to birth control and included a panel of five men, I circulated a petition calling on Congressional Republicans to include the views of women.  This Congress has voted eight times to undermine a woman’s right to choose and have access to abortion care, even when necessary to save her life, and that is unacceptable.  Any woman, no matter what her religious beliefs, has the right to make her own decisions about her health care.

17. How would you improve or strengthen the Affordable Care Act?

I firmly believe the Affordable Care Act is the right step forward for this country. But a bill of that size and complexity is hard to make perfect, and there are certainly ways to improve upon the foundation laid by the bill. For one thing, it did not include a public option – a key mechanism to keep costs down by providing true competition for private health insurance companies. The subsidies to help low-income families and individuals purchase insurance in the new exchanges could be more generous, as they were in the House version of the bill, to provide better access to affordable care. And some of the pilot programs that were included to test ways to change perverse incentives in our current system that reward quantity, but not quality of care could be expanded and strengthened.

Prison Reform & Immigration

18. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world.# We spend more than $70 billion each year on prisons.# How would you reduce incarceration and recidivism (especially among minority and lower-income populations)? Should the U.S. end the war on drugs?

We need to work to ensure that our nation’s prison system at the federal, state and local levels complies with the Constitution, our laws, and ensures the principals of civil and human rights.  We must end the harsh policies that have led to mass incarceration and have given the United States the highest incarceration rate in the world.  We must reform our nation’s punitive drug policies, which have failed improve public safety and health while putting unprecedented numbers of people behind bars and eroding our constitutional rights.

Instead, we must pursue a system of justice that is fair and effective–and only uses incarceration as a last resort.  If we must incarcerate an individual to protect public safety, our prison systems must do their best to prepare that individual for a productive, law-abiding life after their incarceration ends.

19. Do you support the Dream Act and would you vote in favor of it? What else do you think could be done to reform immigration laws?

I am a strong support of the DREAM Act and voted in favor of it.  Although the bill currently does not have enough support in the Senate to pass, I will continue working closely with my colleagues to pass the DREAM Act as a part of comprehensive immigration reform.

The DREAM Act is a good first step to help individuals caught in the terrible situation of being forced to leave what they know as their home for years after being brought here as children.  These young men and women have worked hard, supported their communities, and want to contribute. Making it possible for them to succeed, and for our country to share in that success, is the good and right thing to do.

The DREAM Act is an important part to comprehensively reforming our immigration system to be more fair and effective.  Giving the best and brightest the opportunity to work for their education and citizenship is a crucial first step.

Equal Rights & Energy

20. Would you be in favor of striking down the Defense of Marriage Act? Will you vote for marriage equality on the Maine ballot? Will you actively rather than passively support the initiative?

I am a strong opponent of the Defense of Marriage Act.

I also strongly support the efforts of Mainers United for Marriage to pass marriage equality in Maine.  This referendum is a chance for Maine to pass a citizen-initiated proposal and join the growing list of states around the country that are setting aside discrimination and granting all couples the same right to get married. All across our state, thousands of loving, committed couples are waiting for the opportunity to marry—and they have waited long enough.

In Washington we have fought to end discriminatory practices like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell but it will be up to Maine voters to bring equality to marriage in Maine. This is an issue of basic human rights and equal treatment under the law and I’m confident we will do the right thing.

21. Rank the top 5 energy sources that are the most viable options to combat man-made climate change, 1 being the best and 5 being the worst:

  • Nuclear ___
  • Wind power 1
  • Natural gas 4
  • Solar power 3
  • Off shore drilling
  • Tidal energy 2
  • Solar energy 5
  • Other (please explain) _________

What is inhibiting the growth of these energy sources?

We must invest in clean, safe, affordable and renewable sources of energy to increase our energy security, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and reduce the impacts of global climate change.  There is a tremendous potential for tidal and wind energy off the Maine coast.  There is enough energy there to meet up to one-third of the country’s energy needs—Energy Secretary Stephen Chu has singled out Maine, saying, quote, ‘these resources…can create new industries and new jobs in America.’”   And, recently, a Norwegian power company called Statoil proposed to build a pilot project of floating wind turbines about ten miles off the coast near Boothbay.  Experts say up to 15,000 jobs can be created in Maine by offshore wind development—good paying American jobs that will help us regain our energy independence.  It’s time for us to invest in renewable energy, and move away from the dirty, dangerous and inefficient energy sources of the past.