AUGUSTA, Maine — Groups on both sides of the debate over gay marriage in Maine are building massive campaign warchests in anticipation of a costly and emotional political campaign already drawing national attention and money.
Opponents of Maine’s recently enacted same-sex marriage law have yet to file the signatures needed to have a “people’s veto” question appear on the November ballot. But within the past month, the major campaigns seeking to defend or repeal Maine’s same-sex marriage law have amassed more than a half-million dollars in donations, according to campaign finance reports filed with state officials on Wednesday.
Stand for Marriage Maine — the coalition leading the fight against allowing same-sex couples to marry — raised $346,690 between June 3 and July 3. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland contributed $100,000 of that total, although a campaign spokesman pointed out that the money was from a special fund for that purpose, not church collections.
The National Organization for Marriage in New Jersey, which helped defeat a gay marriage movement in California, chipped in another $160,000.
“It’s a long haul, but we’ve got a good start,” said Mark Mutty, one of Stand for Marriage Maine’s campaign leaders.
The organization leading the fight to preserve the same-sex marriage law, Maine Freedom to Marry, said it raised $138,640 during roughly that same time period. A full breakdown of the group’s finances was not available Wednesday evening, but campaign leaders said more than $81,000 of that money was raised from Maine residents.
“This campaign is going to win because we have extraordinary grass-roots support from regular Mainers,” Jesse Connolly, Maine Freedom to Marry’s campaign manager, said in a statement. “We fully expect to be outspent by those who would deny lesbian and gay couples the right to marry. But this is an issue that speaks to people’s hearts.”
A public hearing last winter drew thousands of supporters of allowing same-sex couples to marry, but polls show Mainers in general are much more closely divided on the issue. Although not even certified as a ballot question, the issue is already garnering attention from national groups on both sides because a gay marriage law has never survived a statewide vote in the U.S.
In May, the Legislature approved and Gov. John Baldacci signed LD 1020, which makes Maine the fifth state in the nation to allow same-sex couples to marry. The law does not require clergy to perform marriage ceremonies for gay couples, however.
Stand for Marriage Maine must submit 55,087 valid signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office to keep the law from taking effect this September and to trigger a statewide vote on Election Day.
Mutty predicted Wednesday that they will file “a very significant amount of signatures well in excess of the minimum” by early August. In addition to the Roman Catholic Diocese and the National Organization for Marriage, the organization also received $50,000 from the Knights of Columbus in Washington, D.C., and $31,000 from the Focus on the Family Maine Marriage Committee but only $400 from individuals.
Mutty pointed out that his organization’s Web site has only been up for less than two weeks and he predicted that the number of individual donations will increase dramatically as the campaign ramps up.
Connolly said Maine Freedom to Marry has already received support from a national organization, in this case, $25,000 from the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C. But he pointed out that his organization has already received donations from 352 individuals.
Maine’s next gubernatorial election is still well over a year away, and political watchers expect the field of candidates to grow significantly in the coming months. But a handful of potential candidates are already aggressively courting donors.
Republican candidate Bruce Poliquin of Georgetown leads the pack of hopeful governors in terms of money raised, and by a long shot. Poliquin reported raising more than $276,000 with $192,256 in cash still available. But nearly $160,000 of the total came from Poliquin’s own bank account.
Reached on the campaign trail Wednesday evening, Poliquin said he believes it is understandable that he would be the first person to donate to his campaign. But Poliquin, who is already touring the state in a campaign motor home, pointed out that the $110,000 he raised from individuals is still roughly three times as much as his closest competitor.
“The response we are getting not only from Republicans but independents and Democrats is very humbling,” he said.
Republican candidate Matthew Jacobson’s campaign finance reports say he raised more than $38,000 and has roughly $10,000 cash on hand.
Former state Attorney General Steven Rowe, a Democrat, reported raising more than $59,000 with nearly $57,800 still on hand.
Lynne Williams, who formally declared her Green Party candidacy on Wednesday, raised $3,295 during the campaign reporting period.
Republican Les Otten announced he was exploring running for governor only a few days before the reporting period ended, which limited his fundraising to about $6,000.
“Since June 30, we have hit the campaign trail and the fundraising trail pretty hard,” Edie Smith, spokeswoman for the Otten campaign, said Wednesday.