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Outside Groups’ Spending In Maine Races Approaching $3 Million — And Counting

Steve Mistler
Maine Public
Left to right, independents Alan Caron and Terry Hayes, Democrat Janet Mills and Republican Shawn Moody.

Groups that can spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections have combined to bring in nearly $3 million already on Maine legislative and gubernatorial races.

The spending tracks closely with recent elections for state offices, which have become increasingly targeted by an array of national interest groups leveraging election dollars for greater say in the laws and policies that affect Maine residents.

More than $1.8 million spent has come from progressive groups supporting legislative candidates and Janet Mills, the Democrat competing in the four-way race for governor.

But while Democratic-aligned groups account for seven of the eight top spenders actively messaging with digital, direct mail, television and radio ads, there are signs Republican-affiliated groups are preparing to respond.

The Maine Republican Party last Friday reported spending over $130,000 on television ads opposing Mills. The day before, a group called the American Comeback Committee registered with the Maine Ethics Commission.

The ACC is a subsidiary of the Republican Governors Association, the same group that spent most of the nearly $6 million to re-elect outgoing Gov. Paul LePage four years ago. The ACC is designated as a 527 organization by the IRS, which means that, unlike most federal groups, it is required to report its contributions and spending to the IRS, not the Federal Elections Commission.

It’s the same designation as State Victory Action, a North Carolina group funded by the triumvirate of progressive heavy hitters, Hungarian-American investor George Soros and hedge fund managers S. Donald Sussman and Tom Steyer.

State Victory Action has donated $500,000 to Rebuild Maine, a union-backed group that hopes to lift Mills to the governor’s mansion and elect Democrats in the Legislature. So far, Rebuild Maine has spent roughly $105,000 on election communications. The biggest spender so far has been the Maine Democratic State Committee, the electioneering arm of the Maine Democratic Party, which has spent over $863,000 already.

The Maine Democratic State Committee’s top funder to date is the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, or DLCC, a national group geared toward electing Democrats in state legislatures. The DLCC is also giving directly to the two groups hoping to give Democrats majorities in the state Senate and House of Representatives.

The Republican State Leadership Committee, the GOP counterpart of the DLCC, has not yet begun its electioneering efforts, according to state campaign finance filings.

In 2014, The Republican Governors Association and its subsidiaries spent early on the race for governor, running its first ads supporting LePage in late August. The group also provided organizing and voter mobilization support to the Maine Republican Party that year. So far, the group’s efforts to back Republican nominee Shawn Moody are not as visible.

But that’s expected to change. The most recent public polls available show Moody and Mills deadlocked with independents Terry Hayes and Alan Caron in the low single digits.

Additionally, some groups spend late in election season. The most furious political messaging typically occurs in the final weeks and days before the election.

In 2014, outside groups brought in more than $14 million on legislative and gubernatorial races. Of that amount, $8.3 million was spent during October and November and $6 million in the 20 days before the election.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.