The campaign to overturn a new state law eliminating philosophical and religious exemptions for childhood vaccinations in Maine raised more than $123,000 in cash and in-kind contributions in the last quarter and more than half its expenses went to a consultant hired to oversee the collection of voter signatures.

Mainers for Health and Parental Choice, a political action committee, collected $161,841 for the year and spent $140,695 on campaign activities, including $70,358 paid to James Tracey of Auburn for petition consulting. The campaign had just over $21,000 in cash on hand at the end of the reporting period on Sept. 30.

The figures were in a campaign finance report filed late Monday with the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices. The filing detailed contributions and expenditures from July 1 through Sept. 30.

Much of the PAC’s funding came from individual donors in Maine, although the largest single contribution of $12,500 came from Matthew Coffin, a retiree in Rhode Island. The campaign also received a $25,000 loan from Stephanie Grondin, whose address was not listed.

Tracey, the petitioning consultant, has been involved in previous petition drives, including a 2016 campaign that resulted in Maine legalizing recreational marijuana. In that campaign, he was among a handful of notaries public singled out by Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap for inconsistencies in signatures on the petitions they notarized.

Dunlap tossed out thousands of signatures notarized by Tracey and several other notaries, including former state lawmaker Stavros Mendros, a Republican who represented Lewiston. A judge later ruled against Dunlap and allowed the ballot measure to move forward.


Another political action committee set up to oppose the vaccine law repeal, Maine Families for Vaccines, was created in late September. It filed its first financial report, showing only $1 on hand.

Maine this year joined California, New York, West Virginia and Mississippi as the only states to eliminate all non-medical exemptions for school-required vaccines. New York eliminated religious exemptions this summer after a measles outbreak that sickened more than 650 people since 2018, and which spread largely in areas with high rates of vaccination opt-outs.

Nationally, 1,241 measles cases have been reported in 2019, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the highest number since 2000.

Vaccines have become a hot-button political issue in Maine, and hundreds jammed the halls of the State House in March for a hearing on the vaccine bill. The people’s veto campaign, if successful, would repeal the law.

The Maine bill, L.D. 798, was approved with a one-vote margin in the state Senate. It will not go into effect until September of 2021, giving schools and parents a chance to make sure all children requiring vaccinations can get them.

The law eliminates philosophical and religious exemptions and requires that children have vaccinations in order to attend school in Maine. The only waivers will be for medical reasons.


The nonmedical opt-out rate for Maine students entering kindergarten climbed from 5 percent in the 2017-18 school year to 5.6 percent in 2018-19, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Medical exemptions doubled, from 0.3 percent to 0.6 percent.

Maine’s opt-out rate is more than three times the national rate of 1.8 percent for kindergartners in 2017-18, the most recent year for which national data is available. Maine has the nation’s highest rate of pertussis, a vaccine-preventable respiratory disease.

Dunlap, the secretary of state, is still working to validate voter signatures collected by the people’s veto campaign, which says it has turned in far more than the 63,054 needed to get on the ballot.

Dunlap’s office has until Oct. 18 to decide if the signatures are valid. If they are, the law would be put on hold until voters go to the polls at the next statewide election, which will be a new presidential primary held in March.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story