AUGUSTA, Maine — A conservative advocacy group associated with Gov. Paul LePage will begin running television ads opposing a budget deal reached by lawmakers last week.
Maine People Before Politics, a group that evolved from the Republican governor’s 2010 transition fund, is launching a television ad campaign starting Tuesday pressuring lawmakers to oppose any tax increases. The budget accord reached last week by lawmakers from both parties would temporarily raise the state’s sales, meals and lodging taxes.
A WCSH official confirmed to the BDN on Monday afternoon that Maine People Before Politics purchased approximately $14,000 in advertising from Maine’s NBC affiliates in Portland and Bangor, with nearly 60 spots to be aired between the two markets starting Tuesday and running through next Monday.
Ethan Strimling, a former Democratic state senator and a political analyst for the BDN and WCSH 6, extrapolated that the entire ad buy, statewide across multiple network affiliates, was worth between $30,000 and $35,000. He said the ad buy wasn’t big, but enough to get attention.
The advertising purchases were not posted by any of the stations in their public records because the political spending was not on what is considered a “matter of national interest” and was not tied to a public referendum or election campaign.
According to a script of the ad obtained by Strimling, the ad touts LePage’s success in passing a wide-ranging income tax cut in 2011 that took effect earlier this year. “Now some legislators, led by liberal special interests, want tax increases,” the script reads, according to Strimling. “Tell your legislators. Let’s not turn back the clock now. Let’s keep the economy moving.”
“It’s very strange to have a governor’s political arm taking out ads calling on people to call on their legislators to change their votes,” Strimling told the BDN on Monday afternoon. “It’ll be interesting to see how effective it is, but it certainly is unprecedented in Maine political history.”
Brent Littlefield, LePage’s political adviser who works with Maine People Before Politics, didn’t confirm the ad buy, saying he couldn’t comment on an ad that hadn’t yet aired. Maine People Before Politics, however, tweeted messages throughout the day touting May polling data that the group said prove Maine residents don’t support raising taxes to fill the state’s budget gap.
“The whole point that Maine People Before Politics has been trying to make this year, including the most recent effort, is about continuing to grow the economy,” Littlefield said.
The TV ad push marks the second of the legislative session by Maine People Before Politics in which the group has asked viewers to pressure their lawmakers to vote a certain way. Maine People Before Politics is registered as a nonprofit organization and doesn’t disclose its donors.
The group caused an uproar at the State House in April when it aired its first ad of the spring, which encouraged Mainers to urge their legislators to support LePage’s plan to repay Maine’s $484 million debt to its hospitals. The ad criticized LePage’s predecessor, Democrat John Baldacci, for leaving behind that debt to the state’s 39 hospitals when he left office in 2011.
Maine People Before Politics launched a website with an online petition, www.NoHospitalDebt.org, to accompany the April ad.
“The sad thing is that Gov. LePage has not once taken the time to work with the Legislature to find a budget everyone agrees on,” said Lizzy Reinholt, a Maine Democratic Party spokeswoman. “Instead, he’s focused on bullying legislators to support his extremely unpopular budget proposal.”
Correction: A previous version of this story said Maine People Before Politics evolved from the governor's campaign fund. It evolved from the governor's transition fund.