Groups that can spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections – and in some instances keep their donors secret – already have spent nearly $2.2 million on the 2014 gubernatorial and legislative contests in Maine.

Friday marked the first day of reporting for what are known as “independent expenditures,” which is spending by corporations, unions and interest groups on television, radio and mail advertisements that are designed to promote or oppose candidates. According to early reports filed with the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, spending by those groups is on pace to eclipse the $4 million spent on identical activity during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

The Blaine House contest is driving this year’s spike in political advertisements.

Atop the spending list is the Republican Governors Association, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that so far is the leading financial backer of Gov. Paul LePage’s re-election bid. The RGA spent over $1 million in 2010 helping LePage win the Blaine House. According to the reports filed Friday, the group already has spent over $980,000 just on television advertising this year.

LePage is trying to fend off challenges from Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler. Unlike Michaud, whose campaign committee has been running television ads since August, LePage’s campaign committee has not purchased any television time, according to separate filings with the Federal Communications Commission.

Spending by candidates’ campaign committees differs from money spent by outside groups, because those groups can solicit unlimited donations from corporations, nonprofits or unions. Nonprofit organizations that donate to outside groups do not have to disclose their donors, which has made it virtually impossible to tell who is pouring money into the campaigns.

Friday’s reports indicate that spending by outside groups on Maine legislative and gubernatorial races will further a trend established over the past several election cycles. In 2012, independent expenditures on legislative races topped $3.6 million, an increase of nearly 600 percent from the 2008 elections. In 2010, outside groups spent more than $4 million on the gubernatorial race, an increase of over 650 percent over 2006.

The spending in Maine follows a national trend, but one that’s difficult to quantify because of a hodgepodge of disclosure laws among the 50 states. In some states, disclosure laws don’t even exist.

Last year, the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity analyzed data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics and found that nonprofit groups, super political action committees and other groups spent $209 million on elections in 38 states in 2012. That total has been rising since the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United ruling wiped out restrictions on corporate and union spending in 24 states.

Corporate interests have taken advantage of the court decision to funnel money into state races that could produce favorable changes in policy, such as a repeal of collective bargaining rights or reduced business regulations. The leading donors to the Republican Governors Association are Koch Industries and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, owner of Las Vegas Sands Corp.

The association is poised to spend much more than was captured in the reports posted Friday. The disclosure filing does not include the value of television ad time that the group has reserved, but has not yet been broadcast by local stations. The RGA has reserved at least $1.3 million worth of ad time, according to records with the Federal Election Commission.

Progressive organizations and labor unions also have joined the spending spree. This has helped Democrats in Maine and other states rebound from the beating they took in the 2010 midterm election. In Maine, Democrats retook both chambers of the Legislature in 2012, and unions and progressive groups are following a similar playbook in 2014.

Maine Forward, a progressive PAC funded by labor unions, the Maine League of Conservation Voters and the Democratic Governors Association, reported over $460,000 in expenditures in the governor’s race. The group has been running television ads critical of LePage and backing Michaud.

Separately, the Maine League of Conservation Voters PAC has spent over $500,000, including a $400,000 television ad campaign that criticizes LePage’s record on environmental regulations.

The Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund PAC, which supports Michaud, has spent nearly $100,000 on mailers and other communications.

The Maine Republican Party spent over $90,000, including $87,000 on ads and mailers attacking Michaud. The party also spent money on Facebook ads in legislative races.

The Maine Democratic Party State Committee did not post any independent expenditures in the reporting period that ended Thursday.

Other notable expenditures include over $70,000 in mailers opposing LePage and supporting Michaud. The mailers were purchased and produced by the PAC Citizens Who Support Maine’s Public Schools. The group did not report any donations during its last reporting period, but in 2012 was bankrolled by the Maine Education Association, the teachers union for Maine public schools. The same PAC spent over $172,000 trying to influence legislative contests in 2012.

The Committee to Rebuild Maine’s Middle Class, another progressive PAC funded by unions and individuals, spent over $11,000 on a canvassing operation and literature drop. The activity was mostly geared toward supporting Michaud and opposing LePage, but it also targeted candidates in competitive legislative districts. The PAC spent over $764,000 during the 2012 legislative races.

S. Donald Sussman, a hedge fund manager and philanthropist, was the largest individual donor, having given $75,000 to the PAC. Sussman is the majority owner of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel.

B.J. McCollister, a spokesman for Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, a campaign finance group advocating for stronger disclosure laws and public financing, said the early reports were not surprising.

“This is a troubling new trend where outside interests are spending money to influence elections and voters don’t know where the money is coming from,” he said. “We need the tools to let voters know who’s financing the ads.”

McCollister’s group is trying to bring to voters a proposal that would set tougher disclosure requirements on independent expenditures while strengthening the Maine Clean Election Act.

The reporting requirement that went into effect Friday includes spending by groups on or before Sept. 4. Groups making independent expenditures Friday through Oct. 21 must file reports with the state two calendar days after spending money on television and radio ads and mailers.

The reporting requirement changes to one calendar day between Oct. 22 through Nov. 4.

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