For a guy who decries dark money in our elections, Lucas St. Clair is stuck in one heck of a shadow.

“We must reduce the role of money in politics,” declares St. Clair, who’s running for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, on his campaign website.

He continues, “Dark money groups and deep-pocketed special interests are undermining our democracy and helping to concentrate political power in the hands of a few wealthy mega-donors.”

Hard to disagree with that. At the same time, it’s hard to ignore the dark money lapping at St. Clair’s own doorstep.

Chances are you’ve already seen the TV spots touting St. Clair’s role in creating the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument – the sprawling, 87,500-acre expanse of forest and mountains in northern Maine donated to the nation by Roxanne Quimby, St. Clair’s mother and the mega-wealthy co-founder of Burt’s Bees.

Two problems with the so-called “issue ads”:

First, their requisite “call to action” – tell the Trump administration “to leave our Katahdin Monument alone” – rings as hollow as a tree stump full of honeybees.

It’s been five months since Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke left Katahdin Woods and Waters off a list of national lands slated to be eliminated or drastically shrunk by President Trump, thus extinguishing fears for the Maine monument’s future.

Second, the 60-second ads go to great lengths to sing the praises of St. Clair. Not as a congressional candidate, which (wink-wink) would be against federal election law, but as the singular savior of the Katahdin region’s economy.

Which brings us to the Maine Outdoor Alliance, the newborn nonprofit “social welfare organization” that produced the ads and has shelled out $300,000 to saturate Maine’s airwaves with them between now and Sunday.

Thanks to reporting by Michael Shepherd of the Bangor Daily News, we know the alliance was incorporated on March 30 by Nathan Deyesso, owner of a metal and woodworking studio in Portland. The same Nathan Deyesso who served as best man at St. Clair’s wedding in 2007.

We also know that the TV ad buys are linked to Barrett Kaiser, a Democratic political operative from Montana. The same Barrett Kaiser hired by Roxanne Quimby to promote Katahdin Woods and Waters en route to its designation as a national monument by President Obama in 2016.

Now for the forehead-slapping part: Asked repeatedly in recent days whose checkbook is behind the Maine Outdoor Alliance ads, St. Clair and his campaign insist they haven’t a clue.

“I am very disappointed that these ads are there,” St. Clair said in a telephone call late Wednesday afternoon. “It’s hard for me to imagine who’s done this and why.”

If nothing else, the man needs to work on his imagination.

“It’s almost so obvious that it borders on arrogance,” said state Rep. Jared Golden, who’s running against St. Clair in next month’s primary along with Craig Olson of Islesboro.

To be sure, St. Clair finds himself in an interesting – and entirely preventable – predicament as the June 12 primary fast approaches.

He’s prohibited by law from coordinating with the Maine Outdoor Alliance on its ad campaign, so he can only profess ignorance of its activities – whether that’s 100 percent true or not.

Yet when such outside help has his best man’s and his own mother’s fingerprints all over it, why not at least publicly demand that the group step forward and tell us where the big bucks came from?

“I am,” St. Clair said for the first time since the ads surfaced last week. “I would like them to expose their donors or take the ads down.”

Don’t hold your breath for the donors to out themselves at this late date – if the $300,000 came from someone with, shall we say, close ties to St. Clair, acknowledging that now would only throw fuel on the fire.

As for taking the ads down, that’s about to happen anyway. According to reports on file with the Federal Communications Commission, they’re slated to end by May 13 – also known as, ahem, Mother’s Day.

It’s an important cut-off date.

Under federal election rules, a nonprofit issue ad that specifically names a candidate morphs into an “electioneering communication” if it runs within 30 days of an election. As such, its funding sources must at that point be publicly disclosed.

Meaning, for a fledgling nonprofit concerned only about the woods and the waters, the Maine Outdoor Alliance sure has an uncanny sense of timing.

So, let’s review what we’re being asked to believe here.

A nonprofit organization purportedly dedicated to “saving” Katahdin Woods and Waters forms less than three months before the primary. But those behind it don’t breathe a word about their plans to the candidate/close friend/blood relative who’s at the epicenter of the monument’s creation.

The group’s TV campaign blankets the entire state for days to the tune of $300,000, only to evaporate one day before the names of the donor(s) behind all that largesse must become part of the public record.

And while the Maine Outdoor Alliance tells the world that it’s in business to protect Katahdin Woods and Waters from the dastardly Trump administration, its slapdash website contains nary a mention of either the president or Interior Secretary Zinke.

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Little wonder that Golden, an Iraq and Afghanistan combat veteran who works at his family’s golf course in Leeds, expects a super PAC or some other opaque funding mechanism to pop up behind St. Clair the moment the Maine Outdoor Alliance disappears over the horizon.

“Some part of me thinks it’s about people worrying about a perception that the St. Clair-Quimby family has a lot of money and they don’t want to be seen as trying to outright buy an election,” he said in an interview on Wednesday.

Golden worries that whoever wins the Democratic primary, criticism of incumbent Poliquin’s longtime reliance on deep, dark pockets – House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC has already pledged $1.2 million – just became a smaller target.

“If we don’t take the high ground on this issue, then we can’t use it as a reason people should be uncomfortable with Bruce Poliquin as their congressman,” Golden said. “I’m not complaining about the money itself. I always expected that there was going to be an infusion of outside independent groups spending money. The issue is about the lack of transparency.”

That it is.

Still, while Maine can only guess who’s hiding behind that $300,000 dark curtain, those not-about-the-election ads are another story entirely.

You can see right through them.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]