PORTLAND, Maine — A Republican political action committee began airing television advertisements Friday in support of Democrat Cynthia Dill’s Senate campaign.
A group calling itself Maine Freedom has purchased air time on four Portland television stations to broadcast a commercial in support of Dill, a state senator who is the Democratic candidate vying for Sen. Olympia Snowe’s soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat.
Maine Freedom’s treasurer is listed as Michael G. Adams, a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of law firm Dinsmore & Shohl. He serves as general counsel for the Republican Governors Association, according to his corporate biography. The group’s assistant treasurer is Erin J. Berry, according to organizing documents filed with the Federal Election Commission. Berry is former deputy counsel for the Republican Governors Association and former associate general counsel for the Republican State Leadership Committee, according to her LinkedIn profile. She works for “undisclosed clients” preparing “FEC compliance reports.”
Adams, when reached for comment by the Bangor Daily News, called Maine Freedom “a bipartisan coalition of people who live in Maine or love Maine or both.”
When asked why Maine Freedom didn’t just buy ads supporting Charlie Summers, Adams said, “Maine Freedom’s purpose is to tell Mainers the facts about the records and positions of their U.S. Senate candidates. The candidates themselves are highly self-interested, and cannot usually be counted on to provide unbiased accounts of their records. In this very positive ad we are providing accurate information that Mainers might be unaware of.”
Maine Freedom was created on Aug. 16, 2012, according to its Statement of Organization filed with the FEC.
The ad spot, titled “Feel Good,” juxtaposes former Gov. Angus King and Dill. It calls them both “reliable Obama allies on health care and taxes” but then points out that while Dill is “known as a bold progressive,” King vetoed an effort to raise Maine’s minimum wage. The ad concludes that Dill is “a Democrat you can feel good about.”
The Dill campaign was not notified about the ad before it started to run, according to a statement sent to the Bangor Daily News. Campaign spokesman Bob Mentzinger would not comment on the ad’s content except to say, “We are focusing on the Dill for U.S. Senate campaign and on the issues of concern to Maine people.”
Lance Dutson, campaign manager for Republican candidate Charlie Summers, also was not aware of the advertisement when reached by the Bangor Daily News.
“Our only comment on that is people are allowed to run whatever ads they want,” Dutson said. “We’re focused on Charlie’s race and his message to get Washington’s fiscal house in order, and that’s what we’re focused on.”
In a statement, Angus King said, “I am all about promoting bipartisanship but Republicans buying television campaign ads for Democrats might be taking it a little too far. In all seriousness, the treasurer of this pac is from DC, the pac is registered in DC … this is another example of out of state interests trying to tell Mainers how to vote.”
King, an independent who would count on attracting votes from Democrats to win the election, added, “When is the last time the Republicans spent money promoting a Democrat? Why can’t they promote their own candidate?”
Polls show King, a two-term governor, with a commanding lead in the race with Summers a distant second and Dill polling below 10 percent. Encouraging Democrats to stick with Dill would take votes away from King rather than Summers.
Having one political party support a candidate from the other party because it puts their candidate in a better position down the road is “not exactly a mainstream tactic in national politics, but it’s hardly unprecedented,” said Ronald Schmidt Jr., a political science professor at the University of Southern Maine.
When Schmidt first heard about Maine Freedom’s new ads, the first thing that came to mind was the current Senate race in Missouri. During the three-way Republican primary race, the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Claire McCaskill, ran ads that on the surface appeared to criticize Rep. Todd Akin by calling him “too conservative.” However, it was a calculated move, Schmidt said, because McCaskill’s campaign had decided that Akin was the candidate they wanted to face in the November general election.
“She criticized his extreme conservative position on the assumption that the Republican base would be more attracted to the most conservative candidate, and that worked apparently,” Schmidt said.
As for Maine’s Senate race, Schmidt is surprised that the Democratic National Committee has not come to the aid of Dill’s campaign, especially since the marriage equality initiative is expected to draw Democrats to the polls in November.
“It seems like the Democrats have decided that King’s lead is so overwhelming that their money is better spent elsewhere,” Schmidt said. “I think that’s really noteworthy when the race to control the U.S. Senate is so tight.”
That being said, Schmidt doesn’t think Maine Freedom’s ads, which he said appear “skeevy,” will do much to help Dill’s campaign, though they may harm King if he’s forced to spend more money defending himself.
“I doubt they’ll have the effect they’re looking for,” Schmidt said.
The ad is scheduled to air on WCSH 6, WGME 13, WMTW 8 and WPFO 7 beginning Friday, Aug. 24, and continuing until Sept. 2, according to public files from WCSH and WGME.
Maine Freedom has spent a total of $71,560 to air its advertisement over the next 10 days, according to public files from WCSH 6. It spent $35,780 at WCSH, Portland’s NBC affiliate station, according to the order form. That represents 50 percent of the organization’s total ad buy. Maine Freedom spent $17,890 (25 percent) at WGME, the Portland CBS affiliate; $14,312 (20 percent) at WMTW, the Portland ABC affiliate station; and $3,578 (5 percent) at WPFO, the Portland Fox affiliate.
In Maine Freedom’s Statement of Organization, filed with the FEC on Aug. 16, Adams writes, “This committee intends to make independent expenditures, and consistent with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decision in SpeechNow v. FEC, it therefore intends to raise funds in unlimited amounts. This committee will not use those funds to make contributions, whether direct, in-kind, or via coordinated contributions, to federal candidates or committees.”
When asked if Maine Freedom planned to remain involved in Maine’s Senate race, either with more television ads or in another fashion, Adams said the organization “does not comment about future plans or strategy.”