The 2012 battle for the Maine Legislature is on pace to be the most expensive in state history.

An examination of state records shows that groups have spent more than $1 million attempting to influence dozens of legislative races with an array of television, radio and print ads. With more than three weeks left before Election Day, and the most frantic spending still to come, the final tally is poised to eclipse the $1.5 million from 2010 and far surpass the $635,000 spent in 2008.

The cash injection reflects the high stakes assigned to the outcome by local and national interests.

Victory is a validation for Republicans of initiatives passed during the party’s two years in control of the State House — the largest tax cut in Maine history, reduced insurance and business regulations and lower state spending. Democrats, meanwhile, say that two more years of unchecked Republican power will further eliminate health care for low income Mainers, attacks against organized labor and a squeeze on the middle class.

A large portion of the spending has been directed by the state party committees. However, a significant amount has been funneled by out-of-state interests — unions, insurance companies, big tobacco — that will expect a return on investment.

An analysis of the spending also shows the races that could tip the balance of power.

So far, groups and party committees have spent more than $618,000 on state Senate races, where Republicans hold a 19-15 advantage (one member is unenrolled), and $437,500 on house contests, where Republicans have a 77-70 edge (two members unenrolled, two seats vacant).

Close to 78 percent of the Senate money has been directed to five races. The money is more evenly divided in the House races.

The five most expensive Senate races stand out in the messaging deployed to influence the outcome and the interests behind the money.

So far the Maine Democratic Party has spent $290,285 on legislative races. The Maine Republican Party has spent $273,157.

The Maine Senate Majority PAC is the third most prolific spender, having dumped $119,809 so far. The group is primarily bankrolled by the Republican State Leadership Committee, a Virginia-based organization whose largest donors are Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield, big tobacco and Republican groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The fourth biggest spender is Citizens Who Support Public Schools which has dumped $76,279 so far. The group is funded mostly by local and national teacher unions.

The Committee to Rebuild Maine’s Middle Class, funded by national labor groups and traditional Maine Democratic donors, is a distant fifth on the political action committee spending list. It has spent over $37,000 so far, mostly on mailers and grass roots voter contact efforts.

The Middle Class group has received funding from S. Donald Sussman, the majority owner of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Sussman has given $160,000 to three Democratic PACs this election cycle.

The above groups have directed significant resources to the five most expensive Senate races.

The battle for District 32 is between Republican Sen. Nichi Farnham, of Bangor, and her challenger Democratic candidate Geoffrey Gratwick. Groups have spent over $187,000 on the race. Over $128,000 has come from the Maine Senate Majority PAC, one of the most prolific spenders of the election cycle. The group is bankrolled by the Republican State Leadership Committee, a Virginia-based organization whose largest donors are Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield, big tobacco and Republican groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Maine Senate Majority has spent heavily in the District 32, mostly on negative ads hitting Gratwick as a tax-and-spend liberal. The Maine Democratic Party has countered with $27,920 that paint Farnham as a close ally of Paul LePage. The Committee to Rebuild Maine’s Middle Class, a group funded by national labor groups and traditional Maine Democratic donors, has kicked in over $10,730.

Senate District 6, including Gorham and Scarborough, is an open seat sought by Republican Ruth Summers and Democrat Jim Boyle. It’s the second most expensive contest with $103,334 directed to the race so far.

The spending is mostly on negative ads. The Maine Senate Majority group has blasted Boyle with over $73,000 in ads, including a television spot.

Democratic groups, meanwhile, have exploited Summers’ involvement with virtual schools and whether the schools emphasize profits over education. The Public Education group this week began circulating mailers that claim Summers “is out for himself, not for our kids” and feature children with price tags.

Similar messaging has been deployed in District 17 where Republican incumbent Sen. Garrett Mason and Democratic challenger Colleen Quint are hoping to represent 10 towns in Androscoggin County. Groups have spent over $83,000 on the race. Mason, the Senate co-chair of the Education Committee, is under fire on two fronts: his support for charter and virtual school legislation and his alliance with LePage. Democratic groups have spent over $54,000 trying to defeat him.

Senate District 25, of Kennebec County, is fourth on the list with groups spending $57,379. The Democratic Party has spent $26,199 against Republican Sen. Thomas Martin, while the Maine Republican Party has dropped close to $25,000.

Senate District 22 in Knox County rounds out the top five with $49,025 spent so far. The majority of the spending has been directed by Democratic groups hoping Democratic challenger Ed Mazurek can topple incumbent Republican Sen. Chris Rector. Republicans have only used limited resources to help Rector. The Maine Republican Party has spent just over $4,000 there.

Unlike the Senate contests, the five most expensive House races are not outliers. Groups have directed between $100 and over $13,000 to dozens of races. Spending has hit five figures in 14 races.

The aforementioned PACs are the biggest spenders in the top five races, which include District 80 between Republican incumbent Rep. Melvin Newendyke, of Litchfield, and Democrat Rachel Lynne Sukeforth ($13,417); District 16 between Republican incumbent Doug Damon, of Bangor, and John Schneck ($13,006); District 128 between Republican incumbent Rep. Heather Sirocki, of Scarborough, and Democrat Jean Marie-Caterina ($12,701); District 54 between Republican incumbent Rep. Susan Morissette, of Winslow, and Democrat Catherine Nadeau ($12,633); and District 127 between Republican incumbent Rep. Amy Volk, of Scarborough, and Democrat Paul Aranson ($12,494).

Steve Mistler — 791-6345

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