Election battles fueled by PACs

Maine Gubernatorial candidates from left Eliot Cutler Independent, Kevin Scott Independent, Paul LePage Republican, Shawn Moody Independent and Libby Mitchell Democrat during the Bangor Debate at the Bangor High School Monday evening. (Bangor Daily News/Gabor Degre)
Maine Gubernatorial candidates from left Eliot Cutler Independent, Kevin Scott Independent, Paul LePage Republican, Shawn Moody Independent and Libby Mitchell Democrat during the Bangor Debate at the Bangor High School Monday evening. (Bangor Daily News/Gabor Degre)
Posted Oct. 17, 2010, at 7:34 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 27, 2010, at 2:56 a.m.

Political action committees already have poured more than $2 million into Maine’s gubernatorial race, helping fuel an advertising and information war sure to intensify in the final two weeks of the campaign.

The 2010 race for the Blaine House already was Maine’s most expensive gubernatorial campaign by the time Democratic and Republican voters selected their respective nominees back in June. The two parties’ candidates spent more than $7.5 million leading up to the June 8 primary.

But in the months since, political parties and outside groups have joined the fray in a big way, according to campaign spending disclosure reports filed with the Maine Ethics Commission.

Today’s poll

Should political action committees, or PACs, be limited in how much money they collect and how they spend it?

Yes

No

The Republican Governors Association — a Washington, D.C.-based organization working to elect GOP candidates — has spent more than $675,000 since early September, largely on television ads either promoting Republican Paul LePage or criticizing Democrat Libby Mitchell.

The Democratic Governors Association, meanwhile, has invested nearly $500,000 on anti-LePage ads.

A number of Maine-based political action committees — or PACs —also are cutting big checks to support or oppose particular candidates. They include:

• $380,000 from Citizens Who Support Maine’s Public Schools, a PAC heavily funded by the Maine Education Association teachers union. So far, all of the PAC’s expenditures have been for ads opposing LePage.

• $113,000 in two weeks from Campaign for Maine, a PAC set up and funded by supporters of independent candidate Eliot Cutler.

• $272,000 from the Maine Republican Party PAC for ads or literature promoting LePage or attacking Mitchell.

• $215,000 from the Maine Conservation Voters Action Fund, a PAC affiliated with the Maine League of Conservation Voters. That money has paid for ads targeting LePage on environmental issues.

• $169,800 from Maine Women Vote, a PAC affiliated with Washington, D.C.-based EMILY’s List, an organization that supports pro-choice, Democratic women seeking office. The expenditures paid for mailings supporting Mitchell and opposing LePage and Cutler.

Political action committees have emerged as influential players in campaigns across the country.

While Maine election law prohibits individuals or organizations from contributing more than $750 to any particular candidate’s campaign, PACs face no such restrictions.

That means individuals or corporations can make large donations to PACs, and the organizations can spend large sums — independent of any campaign — running ads praising or blasting a particular candidate or issue.

The Republican Governors Association’s heavy involvement in the Maine campaign is a sign that GOP leaders consider this traditionally Democratic-leaning state vulnerable in 2010.

Chris Schrimpf, spokesman for the association in Washington, D.C., said LePage “understands voters’ frustration with politicians and business as usual in Augusta.”

“He would bring a fresh perspective and a business perspective to Maine government,” Schrimpf wrote Sunday in an e-mail. “The race is one of many important ones to the RGA this year because it is an opportunity to bring ideas like smaller, more efficient government and fewer taxes to traditionally Democratic states that will help Maine and the country grow jobs.”

The Republican Governors Association’s Maine PAC received $525,000 between mid-July and mid-September, all from out-of-state corporations or organizations.

Maureen Drouin, principal officer of the Maine Conservation Voters Action Fund, said Sunday that the PAC became involved in the election after determining that LePage’s “extreme” environmental positions put Maine’s air, water, economy and way of life at risk.

Individual contributions to the PAC run the gamut from $50 to $25,000.

“This is the first time we have ever done anything like this,” said Drouin, who is executive director of the Maine League of Conservation Voters.

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