Three people walk into a bank.

The first, a soccer mom in Spandex, withdraws money from the ATM in the lobby and departs for her Pilates class.

The second, a disheveled meth addict, pulls a gun and forces a teller to hand over a wad of bills. He, too. departs for that Pilates class, where he steals valuables from the lockers.

The third bank visitor is wearing an expensive suit and tie, hand-crafted leather shoes, and a watch that cost more than a car. He makes a legitimate withdrawal at the ATM, before his meeting with the bank president, where he presents fraudulent documents that convince the president to lend him millions that will be squandered in a pyramid scheme involving phony Pilates studios.

Who’s the most moral?

I think we can agree that the soccer mom’s money is clean — even though she is carrying on simultaneous secret affairs with the bank president, her Pilates instructor and John Edwards; she is ignoring obvious signs that her 15-year-old son is operating a pornographic Web site from his bedroom; and she drinks coffee grown in nonenvironmentally friendly conditions by workers who aren’t paid livable wages.

I don’t think there’s any argument the meth addict’s funds are dirty — even though he used a portion of those proceeds to pay his child support and make a substantial donation to Haitian earthquake relief. He’s also scrupulous about bringing reusable cloth bags on his shoplifting excursions.

Here’s where it gets tricky, because the third bank customer obtained his cash from two sources. He withdrew some from his account. That’s clearly OK. But he got the rest from a con job. And that’s wrong. On the morality scale, how does he rank?

That question is too sticky for a guy who makes his money in journalism and Powerball tickets, so I defer to the experts at the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices.

In late January, this august body (slightly pudgier than a July body, possibly because it’s been skipping Pilates classes) was faced with an issue not dissimilar to that raised by our Madoff-like bank scammer.

After considerable deliberation (involving about the same amount of time contestants have to answer the “Final Jeopardy” question), the members decided it would be acceptable for gubernatorial candidates who qualify for public funding — “clean” money — to also, under certain circumstances, accept private donations — including filthy cash from meth dealers and Ponzi-scheme operators.

That’s because the Maine Clean Election Fund may not have enough money to pay for all the gubernatorial campaigns that want their invoices for TV spots and lawn signs covered by taxpayer dollars.

Currently, eight of the 23 potential goobs are seeking public funding (Green Independent Lynne Williams announced last week that she could not “in good conscience” take the public money she wouldn’t have qualified for anyway).

Several others are about as likely to get that funding as I am to lead a Pilates class.

Nevertheless, if just four Blaine House hopefuls fulfill the requirements to go “clean” in the primary, and three make it to the general election, the fund will go broke.

Clearly, a contingency plan is needed, and the ethics commissioners have come through with one that bears an uncanny resemblance to that third bank customer.

Under this plan, candidates will be eligible for reduced state funding — sort of like the cash the grifter withdrew from his own account. But if privately funded opponents spend more than the amount of that initial public handout, the situation gets morally murky.

That’s because the “clean” candidates will then be allowed to solicit and accept private donations, just like their “dirty” opponents do. And just like fast-talking operators who convince bankers to invest their profits from questionable derivatives in enterprises of even more dubious legality.

This verdict seems to be neither “clean” nor clear. If taxpayer-funded candidates are allowed to mix public and private donations in their campaign treasuries, then who can claim the moral high ground?

Soccer moms who pay their own way through their virtues and vices?

Criminals who risk their limited means as seed money to dupe the unwary and/or greedy out of their retirement funds?

Meth addicts?

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to anybody at the ethics commission that if private money is inherently corrupting (and if it isn’t, why have a Clean Election Fund in the first place?), then it doesn’t matter if a candidate accepts a little or a lot. There can’t be such a thing as “half-clean.”

If the public trough doesn’t have enough in it to slop all the hogs this year, wouldn’t it be better to let them forage in the garbage than to waste available resources to no ethical purpose?

That sort of moral dilemma calls for some deep meditation on the meaning of right and wrong, like they do in some of those mystical religions.

Pilates, I think.

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