AUGUSTA, Maine — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has returned to the fray of Maine’s U.S. Senate race with a second commercial attacking Angus King that accuses the independent former governor of being out of touch with middle-class Maine voters.
The national business group’s latest ad repeats many of the accusations it used in its first television spot in July, when the outside group spent $400,000 to attack King, the front-runner in the contest to replace Olympia Snowe in the U.S. Senate.
While the Chamber has endorsed Republican Charlie Summers in the race and accompanied the Secretary of State on a tour of Maine businesses last month, the bulk of the group’s resources devoted to Maine have been spent on attacks on King.
In addition to hammering King for growth in state spending during his two terms as governor and leaving the state with a $1 billion shortfall when he left office, the Chamber spot claims, “Angus King isn’t worried about issues affecting middle-class Mainers.
“Can you believe what King said?” the ad’s narrator asks. “‘When I’m campaigning, nobody talks to me about health care or even the economy.’ Who is King talking to?”
King — who’s running as an independent and hasn’t said whether he’d caucus with Democrats or Republicans in the Senate — has based his campaign largely on the idea that the U.S. Congress is dysfunctional and needs to operate in a less partisan and politicized manner. The Chamber ad leaves off the part of the King quote that refers to that topic.
“When I’m campaigning, nobody talks to me about health care or even the economy,” King told a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist in July. “It’s ‘the system’ people talk about. Why can’t they compromise? Why can’t they act like adults? Why can’t they represent the public interest instead of the parties? People just want the problems solved. Washington realizes how far out of touch it is.”
The ad also repeats the claim that state “spending skyrocketed” while King was governor, “leaving Mainers with a $1 billion budget shortfall.”
King spokeswoman Crystal Canney said the Chamber ads are part of a string of misleading ads from outside organizations that have spent more than $1 million trying to influence the Senate race.
On Tuesday, Maine Freedom, an organization whose officers have Republican ties, filed reports with the Federal Election Commission indicating the group is spending $110,000 more on ads opposing King and encouraging voters to back Democrat Cynthia Dill. The group already has spent nearly $250,000 airing spots that encourage Democrats to back Dill over King, calling the state senator from Cape Elizabeth “a Democrat you can feel good about.”
The new U.S. Chamber ads also come in the midst of an ad buy of at least $500,000 from the National Republican Senatorial Committee that attacks both King and Dill.
“They don’t know anything about the state of Maine. They don’t know anything about Angus King,” Canney said. “It’s lies and more lies.”
The $1 billion shortfall figure the U.S. Chamber ad cites doesn’t refer to an actual budget shortfall because Maine’s constitution requires that the state budget be balanced. However, had the Legislature that took over as King left office in 2003 funded all services at the same level, the state would have spent about $1 billion more than it was projected to take in in revenue.
The $2.6 billion state spending figure reflects the size of the state’s general fund in fiscal year 2001, when spending from the fund hit $2.57 billion, according to figures from the state’s Office of Fiscal and Program Review. During fiscal year 1997, the general fund’s size was $1.77 billion.
Grant Pennoyer, the Office of Fiscal and Program Review’s director, said in July the general fund grew by about $850 million during King’s administration, from 1995 to 2003. About half of that growth can be attributed to increases in state subsidies for school districts and the cost of funding Medicaid services. Growth in higher education funding and state government personnel costs — including salaries, health insurance and retirement benefits — also contributed.
“Angus King has clearly shown he is out of touch with Mainers on the issues [that] are most important to them — the economy and job creation,” U.S. Chamber political director Rob Engstrom said in a statement announcing the new ad.
The Associated Press reported that the latest U.S. Chamber ad in Maine is one of three new spots the group is launching this week. The other spots are critical of Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Jon Tester of Montana.
Politico reported that the Chamber has spent $280,000 in Maine to run the ad through Sept. 30.
King has responded to the spending by outside groups with videos on his campaign website explaining the state budget process and a TV spot that shows Godzilla, the famed Japanese movie monster. The former governor talks about “some folks from away” trying to convince voters that he’s a monster. King says he cut taxes and fixed bad roads in the commercial, which ends with Godzilla burping.
“It’s clear from the video that we produced that the Chamber ads are not telling the truth,” Canney said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.