PORTLAND, Maine — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent more than $2.5 million on TV advertising in Maine in 2009 in opposition to federal health care legislation, an advocacy group says, while a leading health care reform coalition has spent less than one-third that amount.
Those amounts are impressive considering the ads haven’t been tied to a big election in the state, said Amy Fried, a University of Maine political science professor. The spending gap between the two sides is also significant, she said.
Because of its two moderate Republican senators, it made sense to target Maine in last year’s TV ad blitzes, Fried said. In the narrowly divided Senate, Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are viewed as potential swing votes on health care legislation.
“There’s no need to spend a lot in nonswing states,” Fried said. “We have swing senators, or potential swing senators.”
Maine Change That Works, a coalition supporting health care reform, collected advertising numbers from TV stations to find out how much the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was spending in Maine.
The chamber has been the biggest spender by far on ads opposing health care reform legislation, while the Washington-based Health Care for America Now coalition has been the biggest advertiser in support of reform, said Greg Howard, spokesman for Maine Change That Works.
In all, the chamber spent nearly $2.6 million on TV ads through December on an advertising “onslaught” serving the interests of health insurance companies and others benefiting from the status quo, Howard said.
“These are Washington-based, Washington-inside, Washington-elite people who benefit from the system trying to tell the Maine congressional delegation what the people of Maine think,” he said. “But we know a majority of Mainers support health reform.”
Maine was one of a handful of states targeted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Campaign for Responsible Health Reform, spokeswoman Blair Latoff said. Launched last June, the campaign has run TV, radio, print and online ads, but the Chamber isn’t releasing a breakdown of its spending.
The Chamber supports health care reform, but the version being debated in Congress would do little to lower costs for businesses, she said.
“We’re committed to opposing proposals that will threaten struggling businesses and will ultimately increase costs, increase taxes and impose mandates on employers,” Latoff said.
On the opposite side, the Washington-based Health Care for America Now coalition spent about $825,000 on advertising in Maine in support of health care reform with roughly $700,000 going to TV, said spokeswoman Jacki Schechner. The group focused a lot of resources on Maine because of Snowe’s and Collins’ pivotal roles in the debate, she said.
“It was important for us to convince the senators to do the right thing as far as we were concerned, to take our side instead of the insurance companies’,” she said.
The Maine State Chamber of Commerce hasn’t taken a formal position on federal health care reform, but most members oppose legislation now being debated in Washington, unconvinced that it will lower health care costs, said Peter Gore, vice president of governmental affairs.
Nonetheless, many small businesses in Maine support health care reform, even if the outcome isn’t perfect, said Ben Wooten, owner of a financial services company in Ellsworth and chairman of the Maine Small Business Forum, a loose-knit group of small businesses supporting health care reform.
“It’s gotten to the point where almost any change is likely to be an improvement,” Wooten said. “It may not be what I like, but it’s important to make some progress.”