Political groups trying to sway Senate votes on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh are spending more money on television advertising in Maine than in any other state.

The deluge in Kavanaugh-related advertising in Maine – at least $2.1 million worth as of Tuesday – highlights both Republican Sen. Susan Collins’ pivotal vote and the rise of “dark money” groups aiming to influence the make-up of the courts. Residents of Maine and a half-dozen other states are being bombarded with Supreme Court-related advertising at a time when TV airwaves are already choked with 30-second spots for congressional and gubernatorial elections.

Many of the ads in Maine and elsewhere are sponsored by organizations such as Demand Justice, One Nation, Protect our Care and the Judicial Crisis Network – names that reveal little to nothing about the groups, much less their often-secret lists of donors.

And some observers fear the big-money campaigns for or against Kavanaugh – on top of the hyper-partisan atmosphere in Washington surrounding his nomination – could further erode the public’s trust.

“Without a doubt, this fight and these ads are going to impact how the public views the Supreme Court,” said Douglas Keith, who tracks the spending for the New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice.

“Polls show the public generally holds the court in high regard, at least with respect to the other branches of government,” said Keith, who serves as counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “But those polls show that regard has been declining. And I can only imagine this fight will contribute to that decline.”

Collins is one of three potential Republican swing votes, while a handful of Democrats considered vulnerable in November are also under assault from pressure ads in their states. The Maine Republican is under unrelenting scrutiny and pressure in Maine and Washington, D.C., to the point that Capitol Police shut down public and media access to the hallway outside her office Wednesday because of “security concerns.”

A spokeswoman for Collins dismissed the ad spending Wednesday.

“The dark money television ads inundating Maine will have absolutely zero impact on Senator Collins’ decision,” Annie Clark said in a statement to the Portland Press Herald.

‘SPENDING … NOT … SLOWING DOWN’

Fifteen organizations nationally are waging ad campaigns on Kavanaugh, who faces accusations of sexual misconduct as well as criticism of how he characterized his drinking habits in high school and college.

Roughly $9.4 million of Kavanaugh-related TV ads have aired nationwide since his nomination as of earlier this week, the Brennan Center said.

Maine has been the target of the most spending, accounting for $2.15 million, or 23 percent, of the total nationwide, followed by North Dakota ($1.48 million), Indiana ($1.39 million), West Virginia ($1.19 million) and Alaska ($410,000). Those states also are home to potential swing-vote senators.

Keith noted that the Brennan Center’s figures do not include money paid for ads that have not yet aired and, he added, “the spending certainly has not been slowing down.”

Organizations also bought about $93,000 worth of Kavanaugh-related ads during September in the Press Herald and MaineToday Media newspapers.

Seven groups with interests ranging from reproductive rights to health care have purchased the Maine ads. Opponents had outspent Kavanaugh supporters $1,268,940 to $877,670 as of Tuesday, but the dynamics nationally are tilted roughly 3-to-1 in the other direction.

Michael Franz, a Bowdoin College professor who has co-written or edited several books on political advertising, said it’s understandable that Supreme Court nominations have become political footballs on the nation’s airwaves.

“I think the partisanship we face today makes this opening on the court, given it’s a lifetime appointment, so critically important to voters,” said Franz, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project that tracks political advertising nationwide. “In many ways, people voted for Donald Trump in 2016 because of this issue.”

EFFECTS OF CITIZENS UNITED CASE

Tracking political spending on so-called “issue ads” is more challenging than gathering data on spending by election campaigns, which is gathered and packaged for easy analysis by the Federal Election Commission. Individuals or groups interested in issue ad spending must contact television stations or look up individual purchases reported to the Federal Communications Commission under each station’s “political files.” NYU’s Brennan Center relies on data purchased from Kantar Media – a firm that monitors and analyzes advertising trends – to produce its reports.

However, it’s even more difficult, if not impossible, to answer the question of who is behind the multimillion-dollar TV blitz to influence senators’ votes on Kavanaugh. That’s because the 2010 Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case opened the doors to unlimited spending by outside groups, whether corporations, unions or activist groups.

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Since then, there also has been an explosion in the number of tax-exempt “social welfare organizations” – organized as 501(c)(4) groups. Their primary mission is not supposed to be politics and they do not have to disclose donor identities in most cases.

NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which together have funneled more than $730,000 into Maine ads, are well-known national groups concerned that Kavanaugh would help erode or eliminate women’s access to legal abortion.

Demand Justice, which has spent more than $350,000 in Maine, is the progressive/liberal political machine’s response to the Judicial Crisis Network, a group that has been pushing for conservative judicial appointments for more than a decade.

Neither the Judicial Crisis Network nor Demand Justice disclose their donors. In fact, both have received much of their funding from much larger partisan organizations – the conservative Wellspring Committee and the liberal Sixteen Thirty Fund – in a maneuver that critics of such dark-money groups contend adds yet another layer of secrecy to donation sources.

Demand Justice is run by Brian Fallon, the former press secretary for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, and Christopher Kang, who vetted judicial nominations during the Obama administration.

‘THE PUBLIC IS NEVER GOING TO KNOW’

While some of the ads airing in Maine urge voters to contact Collins’ office, others do not mention the senator by name. But the target is clear, given independent Maine Sen. Angus King’s well-publicized opposition to Kavanaugh’s nomination.

In a Demand Justice ad airing in Maine recently, a narrator reads passages of Christine Blasey Ford’s account of Kavanaugh’s alleged attacks on her when they were both high school students, including that the now-judge “might inadvertently kill me.”

“When 15-year-old Christine tried to scream, her attacker covered her mouth so no one could hear her,” the narrator stated. “Will Susan Collins listen to her now?”

On the other side, the State Government Leadership Foundation is a conservative organization that had funneled $473,230 into Maine as of early this week. Another 501(c)(4) “social welfare organization,” the leadership foundation explicitly states on its website that “The IRS does not require public disclosure of donors.”

The foundation’s most recent ad airing in Maine talks about “unproven allegations” against Kavanaugh that were “raised out of the blue.”

“The truth is, Kavanaugh treats everyone fairly and always applies the law as it is written,” the narrator states. “Don’t let partisans play politics with the Supreme Court. It’s time to confirm Kavanaugh.”

The Brennan Center’s Keith said he wouldn’t criticize any group for trying to influence who will fill these powerful posts. But Keith lamented that, because of weak disclosure laws, “the public is never going to know” who is behind many groups.

Franz, at Bowdoin College, said the ads’ impact is impossible to gauge at this point. They likely increased the intensity of calls and letters/emails to Collins’ office, but with such a high-profile appointment, she would have certainly heard from Mainers without the multimillion-dollar pressure campaign.

“It’s really hard to know because the research is pretty thin on this kind of (advertising),” Franz said. But with Republicans’ slim 51-49 majority in the Senate and Collins still officially undecided, Franz speculated that the groups may be employing an age-old strategy.

“Better safe than sorry,” he said.

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