The Maine political campaign season kicked off this month as incumbent state legislators in the midcoast began to declare whether they planned to run for reelection in November. Most will.

As senators and representatives decide whether to seek reelection in the fall, they have to consider whether to use public financing to pay for their campaigns.

The amount of public money that candidates can access through Clean Election funding this year is still up in the air in the wake of a court decision declaring the matching funds portion of the Maine Clean Election Act to be unconstitutional. A joint legislative committee is still working on what the Clean Election funding process will be for 2012, with staff reporting that the committee will likely report their recommendations to the Legislature next week.

The Maine Clean Election Act (MCEA) established a voluntary program of full public financing of political campaigns for candidates running for governor, state senator, and state representative. Maine voters passed the MCEA as a citizen initiative in 1996. Candidates who choose to participate may accept very limited private contributions at the beginning of their campaigns (seed money contributions). After a candidate begins to receive MCEA funds from the state, he or she cannot accept private contributions.

In the last general election, in 2010, 77 percent of Maine's legislative candidates ran under the Clean Election Act. In the 2010 House races, 89 percent of Democratic candidates and 68 percent of Republicans participated; in the Senate races, 82 percent of Democratic candidates and 94 percent of Republican candidates participated.

Time is of the essence to clarify what changes will be made to Maine's Clean Election Act since many candidates make their decisions about running in January and those decisions hinge, in part, on how they will finance their campaigns. Most incumbents in The Free Press coverage area - Knox, Lincoln and Waldo counties - have declared their intentions, and many of them are considering using Clean Election funds.

in the Senate . . .

• Senate District 20 includes all the towns in Lincoln County (except Dresden) plus Friendship, Washington and Windsor. A Special Election on February 14 will fill the open seat in Senate District 20 that was recently held by David Trahan. Trahan resigned at the end of December to take another job. Rep. Dana Dow (R-Waldoboro), who currently serves in the House, representing Bremen, Nobleboro, Waldoboro, and part of Jefferson, will compete for the Senate seat against Democrat Chris Johnson of Somerville.

• Senate District 22 includes all the towns in Knox County (except for Friendship, Isle au Haut and Washington). Sen. Christopher Rector of Thomaston, a Republican, currently represents Senate District 22. Earlier this week, he said that he will be announcing in the near future what his plans are regarding running for reelection. Rep. Edward Mazurek of Rockland, a Democrat, plans to run for the Senate seat now held by Rector. Mazurek will be term limited in the House, where he currently represents Rockland and part of Owls Head. He plans to use Clean Election funds in his Senate campaign.

• Senate District 23 includes all of Waldo County. Sen. Michael Thibodeau of Winterport, a Republican who now represents Senate District 23, plans to seek reelection this fall but has not yet decided if he will be using Clean Election financing.

in the House . . .

Rep. Chuck Kruger of Thomaston, a Democrat, will be running for reelection for House District 48, which includes Thomaston, St. George, South Thomaston, Matinicus and part of Owls Head.

"I thought about using traditional funding this time around, but I really feel the voters deserve candidates who serve without obligation to corporate wish lists," said Kruger. "So yeah, clean elections it is."

Rep. Joan Welsh of Rockport, a Democrat, is seeking reelection this year. Welsh represents Camden and Rockport, which make up House District 46.

"I wouldn't run if I didn't have Clean Election funds," said Welsh. "They're so important to 80% of those of us who run, and they allow people of all economic levels to participate. I hope we can resolve the matching funds problem that the Supreme Court changed. We need to be able to counter out-of-state dollars that get involved in our local elections."

Rep. Erin Herbig of Belfast, a Democrat who represents Belfast, Belmont and Northport, which make up House District 43, plans to run for reelection and use Clean Election funds.

Rep. James Gillway of Searsport, a Republican who represents Frankfort, Prospect, Searsport, Stockton Springs, Orland and Verona for House District 41, will be seeking a second term but has not yet decided whether he will tap into Clean Election funds.

Rep. Leslie Fossel of Alna, a Republican, will be running for reelection and plans to use Clean Election funds. Fossel represents Wiscasset, Alna, Dresden and Pittston, which make up House District 53.

Rep. Bruce MacDonald of Boothbay, a Democrat, will seek reelection and will use Clean Election funds. MacDonald represents House District 61, which includes Boothbay, Boothbay Harbor, Southport, Westport Island, Arrowsic and Georgetown.

Rep. Ryan Harmon of Palermo, a Republican who represents the Waldo County towns of Burnham, Freedom, Knox, Montville, Palermo, Thorndike, Troy and Unity in House District 45, is running for reelection and won't take Clean Election funds.

"How can anyone run for office taking taxpayer money when we are reducing benefits for needy people in Maine?" said Harmon. "Clearly it is welfare for politicians."

not running . . .

Rep. Jonathan McKane of Newcastle, a Republican, has served two terms representing House District 51, which includes the towns of Damariscotta, Bristol, Edgecomb, Newcastle, South Bristol and the island of Monhegan. McKane is term limited in the House and does not plan to seek public office this year after his term expires.

Rep. Andrew O'Brien of Lincolnville, a Democrat, who represents Lincolnville, Islesboro, Liberty, Morrill, Searsmont, Appleton and Hope in House District 44, has decided not to run for reelection this year.

Rep. Wesley Richardson of Warren, a Republican, is term limited in the House and has no plans to run for another seat. Richardson represents Cushing, Warren, Friendship and Union in House District 49.

haven't heard . . .

Rep. Peter Rioux of Winterport, a Republican who represents the Waldo County towns of Brooks, Jackson, Monroe, Swanville, Waldo and Winterport for House District 42, was unreachable by press time.