Democratic congressional candidate Jared Golden says rival candidate Lucas St. Clair should tell the secretive group running ads on his behalf to disclose its donors.
St. Clair's campaign has said it doesn't know who's behind the Maine Outdoor Alliance, which has booked over $300,000 of television ad time to run spots that feature St. Clair's work to create the Katahdin Woods and Waters national monument.
But Golden says St. Clair can persuade the group to reveal its funders because incorporation documents show the group is run by the best man at his wedding.
"The source of their money is unknown. Their donors are secret. But their intentions are clear. They want to buy this nomination for Lucas St. Clair," he said.
St. Clair's campaign said last week that it preferred a straight contest, but that efforts by outside groups to influence elections are the reality of modern campaigns.
St. Clair, Golden and Craig Olson, of Isleboro, are vying for the Democratic nomination in the hopes of taking on Republican 2nd District Congressman Bruce Poliquin in November.
The Maine Outdoor Alliance and individuals associated with have not responded to requests for comment.
The nonprofit organization was created in late March. The ads don't expressly advocate for St. Clair's candidacy, but he's prominently featured and credited with the creation of the monument.
St. Clair took over the monument effort after his mother, Burt's Bees co-founder and philanthropist Roxanne Quimby, failed to win popular support for it.
It's unclear if Quimby is financing the Maine Outdoor Alliance, but the group is spending more on television ads than what St. Clair, Golden or Olson have in available cash, according to federal finance reports.
The ads are designated as "issue ads" by the Federal Communications Commission. The designation, combined with the group's nonprofit status, means that its donors can be shielded from the public.
David Farmer, a spokesman for St. Clair, says the group is neither affiliated with the campaign, nor coordinating with it.
"We don't know who's doing this," he said last week.
Publicly available records show that the group has connections to St. Clair. Incorporation documents show that the nonprofit was formed by Nathan Deyesso. Deyesso runs a business in Scarborough and, according to a 2008 copy of Gould Academy's alumni magazine, he was St. Clair's best man at his wedding.
Deyesso has not responded to requests for comment.
FCC documents for the television ads link the consulting firm to a Montana-based political consultant that St. Clair and Quimby hired to work on the monument campaign.
"You know, I don't think there's any question that the people who are doing this are supporters of Lucas and the effort he put it in to creating the national monument," Farmer acknowledged last week.
The group is now running ads about saving the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument from the Trump administration – an issue that has been largely settled since December, when Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said the monument is likely safe from changes by the federal government.
Nonetheless, the ads provide a number to call Zinke, so viewers can tell him to leave the monument alone. The number goes to the general number for the Department of Interior – a bureaucracy of over 70,000 employees.
Issue ads by nonprofit groups have become common in recent elections, as groups exploit changes to campaign finance laws to influence elections without revealing donors.
Democrats, including St. Clair, have criticized campaign finance laws. "You know I think that Citizens United and money in politics has been the ultimate corruption of our democracy in our lifetime," he said during a candidate forum held in January.
Golden says St. Clair should denounce the Maine Outdoor Alliance ads if the group doesn't reveal its donors. "How can Democrats hold Bruce Poliquin accountable for taking part in a broken campaign finance system, if we aren't first accountable ourselves?" he said.
The primary election is set for June 12. FCC documents show that the Maine Outdoor Alliance is set to end its ad run 30 days prior to the election.
This story was originally published May 7, 2018 at 1:46 p.m. ET.