The group advocating against the role of outside money and for transparency in Maine elections released a new report today listing the top privately financed legislative candidates over the past 10 years. 

Andrew Bossie, director of the Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, said the report was designed to show how the so-called “Leader Board” financed their campaigns. The analysis breaks down the top 10 privately financed candidates into three fundraising styles, wealthy self-funders who finance the bulk of their campaigns; candidates who rely on large dollar contributions from political action committees and corporations; and candidates who fund their campaigns via a wide array of contributions.

The top 10 features five Democrats and five Republicans.

The report covers the same 10-year period during which public funding was available to Maine legislative candidates. Bossie said the report was designed to show the value of campaign finance laws and contribution limits.

“Voters deserve to know who funds campaigns,” Bossie said in a press release. “At MCCE, we believe that a better understanding about how private money influences public elections leads to a better informed electorate, and that leads to a healthier democracy in Maine.”

The analyis also doubles as advocacy for the Maine Clean Elections Act, the citizen-initiated law that allows legislative candidates to earn public funding for their campaigns by collecting a set number of $5 donations. The law underwent significant changes marshaled by the current Republican majority in the Legislature.

Republicans, many of whom used the clean elections law, argued that the system was flawed and encouraged spending by outside groups. MCCE believes that the changes weakend the law and the organization has vowed to take measures — potentially at the ballot box — to strengthen it.

The organization has since launched a series of reports designed to show the role of outside money in Maine elections. The report released today is the second of those studies.

Bossie said, “MCCE hopes that The Leader Board will help Maine people understand the value of our campaign finance laws – the contribution limits that ensure that no single donor wields outsize influence, and the transparency that allows MCCE and others to illustrate the flow of money through campaigns.” 

The individual contribution limit for legislative candidates was originally $250 and increased to $350 during the period covered by the study.  

MCCE advocates for small individual campaign donations, arguing that such fundraising decreases the chances that large donors will have influence over a candidate’s policy decisions. According to its report, donations fo $50 or less comprised between 1 percent and 23 percent of the fundraising by privately financed candidates. 

Close to 80 percent of legislative candidates have used the Clean Elections law since it was implemented in 2001. The rest have been privately financed. 

The report showed that some candidates earned their spots on the top 10 by raising a lot of money over several election cycles. However, the top spot went to John Linnehan, a Republican who spent over $200,000 in his attempt to defeat incumbent Democratic state Sen. Dennis Damon in 2004.

Damon, No. 7 on the list, handily defeated Linnehan.  

Democrat Paul Tessier was second on the Top 10. Like Linnehan, Tessier spent most of his money during a single race, his 2002 Senate bid. Tessier, however, spent his money during a hotly contested Democratic primary that he eventually lost.

Like Linnehan, who funded nearly 90 percent of his campaign with his own money, Tessier’s campaign was 82 percent funded with his own money.  

Republican Rep. Dana Dow, of Waldoboro, No. 6 on the list and another self-funder, ran four races that were 74 percent funded with his own money.  

Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, Bristol Democrat Chris Hall (No. 4), Falmouth Republican Gerald Davis (No. 10) and Damon were classified as “balanced” fundraisers, drawing donations from a mix of maxed-out individual donors, commercial entities, PACs and out-of-district donors.

Some of the aforementioned candidates had more out-of-district donations than others. For example, Diamond, No. 4 on the list, had 70 percent of his fundraising come from outside his Senate district. A little over 14 percent of outside district money was funneled to Hall. 

Campaigns by Biddeford Democrat Nancy Sullivan (No. 5) and Hampden Republican Debra Plowman (No. 8) were mostly funded by PACs and commercial entities, according to the report. Sixty-four percent of Sullivan’s campaign came from those sources compared to the 69 percent that contributed to Plowman.

MCCE is a nonprofit organization that receives private donations to conduct its advocacy. S. Donald Sussman, majority share owner of The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, has previously contributed to the organization.

MCCE Report02 Profiles in Fundraising Letter

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