October 25, 2012

Candidates outspent by outsiders in Maine Senate race

The Maine race's per-voter cost is sixth highest in the nation because of PAC and nonprofit spending unleashed by court rulings.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON – Out-of-state organizations have spent as much as 70 percent more money per voter trying to influence Maine's U.S. Senate election than the campaigns themselves.

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U.S. Senate candidates: Democrat Cynthia Dill, independent Angus King and Republican Charlie Summers.

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OUTSIDE MONEY SPENT IN U.S. SENATE RACES (PER VOTER)

1. Montana — $36.46

2. North Dakota — $29.92

3. Nevada — $19.28

4. Wisconsin — $9.63

5. Virginia — $8.94

6. Maine — $7.45

7. Indiana — $6.87

8. Nebraska — $6.47

Additionally, outside groups have paid for more than 60 percent of the nearly 10,000 Senate-related television ads that have aired on Maine's major broadcasting networks since this summer.

Those two findings -- based on separate analyses by the Portland Press Herald and an independent ad tracking group -- highlight the dramatic way the political landscape has changed since federal court rulings gave rise to super PACs and unlimited corporate donations.

"Everybody assumed (outside spending) would go up a lot, but I don't think anybody knew on what scale, and it turned out to be very substantial," said Bob Biersack, a senior fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics, which monitors and analyzes campaign spending.

Less than two weeks before Election Day, the campaign spigots appear to have opened all the way in Maine's race to replace retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe. Groups from outside of Maine are behind much of the spending as Republicans and Democrats fight for every seat in the closely divided Senate.

As of Tuesday, political action committees, super PACs and other outside organizations had spent roughly $5.8 million on the race involving independent Angus King, Republican Charlie Summers and Democrat Cynthia Dill. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Republican Senatorial Committee had spent more than $1.3 million to help Summers, while Americans Elect and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had spent more than $1 million each to support King or oppose Summers.

The candidates, by comparison, had spent slightly more than $3.4 million as of Oct. 17, according to the campaigns and reports to the Federal Election Commission.

Put another way, outside groups had spent $7.45 to reach each of Maine's roughly 779,000 registered voters, compared with the $4.37 spent per voter by the campaigns. That gap has likely shrunk somewhat because of subsequent campaign spending.

While the $5.8 million total is less than the "independent expenditures" in a dozen other Senate races -- with Virginia's $32 million leading as of Tuesday -- the outside spending in Maine is more impressive considering the size of the audience.

The Press Herald found that, as of midweek, Maine's Senate race was sixth in the nation in per-voter spending by political action committees, super PACs and politically involved nonprofits.

Ohio's Senate race had attracted nearly five times as much outside spending -- $25.6 million as of Tuesday -- but the per-voter spending was only $4.57.

The same was true in such Senate battleground states as Missouri ($3.19 per voter), Connecticut ($4.33) and Florida ($2.10).

The leader among Senate races, by far, was Montana, where outside groups had poured in $18 million to reach the state's 491,000 registered voters -- $36.46 per voter.

David Parker, an associate professor at Montana State University, said the airwaves in Montana's five television markets are saturated with ads in the race between Democratic Sen. John Tester and his Republican challenger, Denny Rehberg.

Among all of those ads, Parker counted just two funded by outside groups that carried a positive message.

By Nov. 6, Montanans may have seen as much as $24 million worth of television advertising alone, Parker said. That doesn't include spending on mailers, radio advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts, he said.

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