A political action committee dedicated to protecting women’s health and reproductive rights will make an unprecedented investment in Maine’s gubernatorial and legislative races this year.

The Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund will spend at least $500,000 to elect Democratic 2nd District U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud as governor and dozens of other candidates to the Maine Legislature, the group announced Thursday. That investment dwarfs what the group has spent in the last five elections combined.

The announcement underscores the importance of securing a strong turnout by women in the November election – especially for Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler. Both have been highlighting their stances on abortion and other issues important to women in the three-way battle with incumbent Republican Paul LePage for Maine governor.

In 2010, women represented 53.4 percent of registered voters in Maine but accounted for 60 percent of the electorate, according to the Maine Women’s Policy Center.

PAC Chairwoman Nicole Clegg said in a written statement that stakes for women are high this year, especially in light of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows closely held corporations to opt out of paying for birth control under the Affordable Care Act.

The court also ruled that free speech buffer zones, which aim to protect those seeking services from clinics from anti-abortion protesters, are unconstitutional.

Clegg criticized LePage, who opposes abortion but has been a strong advocate against domestic violence, for vetoing the bipartisan Women’s Health Initiative, which would have given 13,000 low-income women access to preventative health care and birth control. He also vetoed legislation to expand Medicaid five times and reduced funding family planning services, she said.

“Women’s health and rights are under attack around the nation. The stakes are high, and now is the time to make a stand,” Clegg said.

“Mike has worked with us over the years and is one of our most trusted allies,” she said of Michaud. “He is a strong, thoughtful and experienced leader, and the partner that we need in the Blaine House.”

The group also announced endorsements in nearly two dozen legislative races, nearly all of which went to Democrats. Senate minority leader Roger Katz was the only Republican to receive the group’s endorsement. Katz is being challenged by Democrat Rebecca Cornell du Houx.

Maine Republican Party Spokesman David Sorensen said Maine women care about jobs, welfare abuse, education and domestic violence. “On all four, Governor LePage and Republicans have taken the lead and delivered real results while liberal politicians fight to preserve the decades-old status quo in Maine government,” he said.

Sorensen also sought to raise doubts about Michaud’s commitment to preserving a women’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.

Michaud began his political career as anti-abortion, but has since changed his position to support a women’s right to choose. He has been endorsed by NARAL Prochoice America.

Sorensen pointed to a 2008 interview with Maine Public Broadcasting Network, in which Michaud appears to evade a question about his stance on abortion. He also highlighted Michaud’s vote to support an amendment to the ACA that would have banned federally funded abortions.

“Congressman Michaud is a politician who simply cannot be trusted,” he added. “You may disagree with Gov. LePage, but at least you know where he stands on the issues.”

RECORD INVESTMENT FOR GROUP

Planned Parenthood’s campaign will include field operations, as well as television and online ads.

“The majority is going to be invested in the governors race,” Clegg said.

The Planned Parenthood’s national PAC will make its own endorsements and investment in federal races, Clegg said. Nationally, Planned parenthood could spend upwards of $24 million this year, she said.

Some governors have sought to strip public funding for Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit organization. The group’s northern New England office receives $397,000 in combined federal and state funding services other than abortion, such as birth control and cancer screenings, Clegg said.

Federal law prohibits nonprofit organizations that receive federal funding from contributing to political campaigns. However, the law does allow for nonprofit groups to form separate political action committees that are funded by donors.

In 2010, the PAC raised and spent less than $6,000. In 2012, the PAC raised nearly $11,000 and spent nearly $8,600.

So far this year, the PAC had raised a little more than $235,161 as of July 25 and spent $63,000.

This year, the PAC’s major donor is S. Donald Sussman, a financier and philanthropist who contributed $150,000.

Sussman is the majority owner of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel.

Sussman issued a written statement through a spokesperson about his donation.

“Like so many of us in Maine, I am very disheartened by the recent Supreme Court rulings, as well as the onslaught of legislative efforts across the country that will undermine a woman’s freedom to make her own personal medical decisions – a freedom that each and every one of us should enjoy,” Sussman said. “We need to elect lawmakers who won’t tolerate this sort of interference in women’s lives.”

The New York City-based Planned Parenthood Votes has contributed nearly $73,000 to the Maine PAC.

Another major contributor is Cumberland resident Margot Milliken. She donated $5,000 to the Planned Parenthood’s Maine-based PAC and $50,000 to the Planned Parenthood Votes PAC.

WHERE WOMEN STAND

A poll conducted in June for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center found that 48 percent of women planned to vote for Michaud, 29 percent said they’d support LePage and 17 percent backed Cutler.

Like men, women surveyed said jobs and the economy were the most important problem facing Maine.

Roughly half of all women and men polled believed abortion should be legal in all circumstance, while 41 percent of women and 42 percent of men believed it should be legal in some circumstances. Only 10 percent said abortion should not be legal in any circumstances.

 

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