AUGUSTA, Maine — Two new political groups are ready to spend tens of thousands of dollars on door-to-door canvassing and contributions ahead of this fall’s statewide election.
Maine legislative candidates will vie for seats and control of the chambers this November. New political action committees include a California progressive group that supported independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential bid and a pro-tax reform group linked to GOP Gov. Paul LePage.
The new groups are popping up at a time when an increasing amount of out-of-state, often untraceable money is entering Maine politics.
State campaign finance records show that named out-of-state donors have contributed about $7.7 million to Maine ballot question campaigns, PACs, parties and candidates so far this year— more than three times as much as all contributions reported by this point in 2008. The next deadline for Maine political groups to report fundraising and spending is Oct. 5.
PROGRESSIVE MAINE BRINGS ‘DARK MONEY’
The Democratic candidate seeking to oust the Republican leader of Maine’s Senate says that he doesn’t want this out-of-state progressive group’s “dark money.”
Progressive Maine, a California-based group that registered in Maine in August, has reported one contribution: $50,000 from the pro-Sanders group Progressive Kick Independent Expenditures.
That Progressive Kick group is a super PAC, meaning it can raise unlimited amounts of money to support or oppose candidates. Federal campaign finance records show its biggest donors are national and California nursing groups.
Progressive Maine plans to hire Maine staff to organize volunteers to support Democratic state Senate candidate Jonathan Fulford. The group’s job postings on social media also say it wants to campaign for Maine ballot questions concerning the minimum wage and school funding.
Fulford, a publicly funded candidate, said that he has no control over anything they do under federal law and wishes “they weren’t doing this.”
“The amount of money in politics in Augusta is damaging our democracy,” Fulford said. Progressive Maine representatives didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Fulford is running against Republican Sen. President Mike Thibodeau, who he narrowly lost to in 2014.
Thibodeau criticized the California super PAC for “circumventing the intent of Maine law” by avoiding state disclosure requirements.
“This is kind of a new phenomenon: to have a California super PAC that will not disclose its donors coming into a state Senate race like this,” Thibodeau said.
ICE PAC WANTS TO CUT TAXES
Republican Gov. Paul LePage is a registered member of a PAC that’s raised $130,000 to support candidates who want to lower Maine citizens’ taxes.
LePage’s 2011 reform removed about 70,000 low-income residents from the income tax rolls and reduced Maine’s top income tax rate. ICE PAC reported spending $115 to rent the governor’s residence, the Blaine House, on July 27.
State campaign finance reports show ICE PAC has received $50,000 in contributions from New Hampshire residents Gary and Robert Bahre. The two were the largest owners of the Oxford Casino before selling it to an out-of-state operator.
Another $50,000 in contributions came from Maine residents Diana Bean and Linda Bean, the granddaughters of L.L. Bean’s founder.
ICE PAC also reported $30,000 from Paul Fortin, who owns a Maine land and timber company, and Tim Varney, who owns a Maine insurance company.
The PAC’s officer is Michael Hersey, who until July served in the LePage administration as a director in the state Department of Economic and Community Development.
Hersey directed comment to PAC treasurer Holly Lusk, a Maine lawyer who’s worked as a lobbyist and LePage policy adviser.
Lusk and LePage’s representatives didn’t respond to requests for comment.
This story has been corrected to show that Bernie Sanders is an independent, not a Democrat.