AUGUSTA, Maine — With the gubernatorial election still more than a year away, the stockpiling of campaign cash has begun in earnest with at least two of the likely candidates for governor already banking hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Democratic Congressman Mike Michaud, who is seriously mulling a gubernatorial run, announced Monday that in the past 17 days he has raised more than $300,000 for his exploratory committee for governor. Eliot Cutler, an independent who finished a close second to Republican Paul LePage in 2010, has collected more than $430,000 since the beginning of this year, according to Cutler spokesman Ted O’Meara. A spokesman for Gov. LePage declined to say how much has been raised on behalf of the governor.
Michaud and Cutler’s announcements came the day after a quarterly filing deadline with the Maine Ethics Commission, which isn’t due to receive final reports and announce the tallies for all candidates for another two weeks. According to a statement from the Michaud campaign, the $300,000 tally was reached in 17 days between June 13, when Michaud launched an exploratory campaign, and Sunday.
The amount reported by the Michaud and Cutler campaigns could not be independently verified because campaigns are not required to file their final reports for the second quarter of 2013 until July 15.
Michaud said the clip at which donations have been made indicate strong support for his candidacy.
“I’m truly humbled by the enthusiasm I’m hearing from people and the support I’ve received since I announced the formation of an exploratory committee a little more than two weeks ago,” said Michaud in a prepared statement. “More than 1,100 people from every county in Maine have contributed to our efforts and many more have signed up to volunteer. … It’s clear to me that Maine is ready for a change in Augusta and Mainers are willing to work to make that change happen.”
The Michaud campaign pointed out, and the Maine Ethics Commission’s website confirmed, that incumbent LePage collected about $172,706 between August 25, 2011 and December 31, 2012, which is the most recent period for which fund raising totals are available.
“Supporters of Rep. Michaud have contributed more in 17 days than the sitting governor raised in the first 17 months of his campaign,” said David Farmer, a spokesperson for Michaud’s exploratory committee who is a blogger for the Bangor Daily News and former spokesman for Democratic Gov. John Baldacci. “The level of support for the congressman is wide and deep and demonstrates that if he chooses to run, he will be the candidate to beat.”
Brent Littlefield, LePage’s campaign advisor, said Monday morning that he doesn’t discuss his clients’ fundraising totals before they’re made public and that LePage hasn’t had time to begin raising funds in earnest.
“He has to govern, which takes up a tremendous amount of time and that’s where his time and energy has been put,” said Littlefield of LePage. “The governor has put his entire personal focus on governing and it’s been a difficult legislative session.”
Littlefield said he expects LePage to be outspent by Michaud and Cutler, just as LePage was outspent during the 2010 campaign, but that there is enthusiasm for a second LePage term that won’t necessarily translate to high fundraising totals.
“We expect to do well in this campaign; people have been contributing and they seem excited to be contributing for the governor,” said Littlefield. “In terms of fundraising, we expect to be heavily outspent, just like we were in the last campaign.”
O’Meara said all of Cutler’s funds have come from private donations and that Cutler has not personally contributed to his 2014 campaign to date nor hired professional phone banks or social media advertising. He said Cutler’s total was especially impressive because he doesn’t have a major political party raising money for him, as do Michaud and LePage.
“Our really active fundraising has been in the past couple of months,” said O’Meara. “The goal was $400,000 by June 30 and we blew past that over the weekend.”
Farmer said “a small percentage” of Michaud’s fundraising did come from hired phone banks, political action committees and advertising on Facebook, but that it was “disingenuous” for the Cutler campaign to claim that its cash came from unsolicited, individual donors. In addition to several email solicitations, Cutler has participated in at least one big-name fundraiser in Washington, D.C.
“A single event that raises $100,000 is a very successful event,” said Farmer, who estimated that fewer than a dozen of the more than 1,100 donations the Michaud campaign has collected came from PACs. “The vast majority of our donations have come from individuals.”
Neither LePage, Michaud nor Cutler has made a formal announcement about running for governor, though all three have launched exploratory campaigns and are seen as highly likely to make Blaine House bids.