October 11, 2012

Spending on Maine legislative races may break record

More than $1 million has already been spent; 2010 record expected to be surpassed

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The 2012 battle for the Maine Legislature is on pace to be the most expensive in state history.

An examination of state records shows that groups have spent more than $1 million attempting to influence dozens of legislative races with an array of television, radio and print ads. With more than three weeks left before Election Day, and the most frantic spending still to come, the final tally is poised to eclipse the $1.5 million from 2010 and far surpass the $635,000 spent in 2008.

The cash injection reflects the high stakes assigned to the outcome by local and national interests.

Victory is a validation for Republicans of initiatives passed during the party's two years in control of the State House -- the largest tax cut in Maine history, reduced insurance and business regulations and lower state spending. Democrats, meanwhile, say that two more years of unchecked Republican power will further eliminate health care for low income Mainers, attacks against organized labor and a squeeze on the middle class.

A large portion of the spending has been directed by the state party committees. However, a significant amount has been funneled by out-of-state interests -- unions, insurance companies, big tobacco -- that will expect a return on investment.

An analysis of the spending also shows the races that could tip the balance of power.

So far, groups and party committees have spent more than $618,000 on state Senate races, where Republicans hold a 19-15 advantage (one member is unenrolled), and $437,500 on house contests, where Republicans have a 77-70 edge (two members unenrolled, two seats vacant).

Close to 78 percent of the Senate money has been directed to five races. The money is more evenly divided in the House races.

The five most expensive Senate races stand out in the messaging deployed to influence the outcome and the interests behind the money.

So far the Maine Democratic Party has spent $290,285 on legislative races. The Maine Republican Party has spent $273,157.

The Maine Senate Majority PAC is the third most prolific spender, having dumped $119,809 so far. The group is primarily bankrolled by the Republican State Leadership Committee, a Virginia-based organization whose largest donors are Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield, big tobacco and Republican groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The fourth biggest spender is Citizens Who Support Public Schools which has dumped $76,279 so far. The group is funded mostly by local and national teacher unions.

The Committee to Rebuild Maine's Middle Class, funded by national labor groups and traditional Maine Democratic donors, is a distant fifth on the political action committee spending list. It has spent over $37,000 so far, mostly on mailers and grass roots voter contact efforts.

The Middle Class group has received funding from S. Donald Sussman, the majority owner of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Sussman has given $160,000 to three Democratic PACs this election cycle.

The above groups have directed significant resources to the five most expensive Senate races.

The battle for District 32 is between Republican Sen. Nichi Farnham, of Bangor, and her challenger Democratic candidate Geoffrey Gratwick. Groups have spent over $187,000 on the race. Over $128,000 has come from the Maine Senate Majority PAC, one of the most prolific spenders of the election cycle. The group is bankrolled by the Republican State Leadership Committee, a Virginia-based organization whose largest donors are Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield, big tobacco and Republican groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Maine Senate Majority has spent heavily in the District 32, mostly on negative ads hitting Gratwick as a tax-and-spend liberal. The Maine Democratic Party has countered with $27,920 that paint Farnham as a close ally of Paul LePage. The Committee to Rebuild Maine's Middle Class, a group funded by national labor groups and traditional Maine Democratic donors, has kicked in over $10,730.

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