AUGUSTA, Maine — Independent candidate for governor Eliot Cutler announced Monday that he will not accept campaign donations from any political action committees for the 2014 election, a move that his campaign says will put him in office with no strings attached but which a spokeswoman for Democrat Mike Michaud said would have little effect on his spending.
Crystal Canney, a spokeswoman for Cutler, said Cutler had decided earlier in the campaign and announced the decision on Monday, one day ahead of a campaign fundraising filing deadline for gubernatorial candidates that serves as a benchmark for their early support in the race.
“It’s really important to us that Eliot be unbought,” said Canney. “This allows him the freedom, when he gets to Augusta, to lead.”
Cutler, who narrowly lost the gubernatorial election to Republican Paul LePage in 2010, received two donations that year from state and federally registered political action committees worth $750 each, according to data on the Maine Ethics Commission’s website. They came from Nestle Waters North America Inc. and Time Warner Cable.
While it represented a fraction of Cutler’s available funds in 2010, donations from PACs added up for Republican Gov. Paul LePage, whose campaign declined comment for this story. LePage accepted 35 donations from PACs in 2010, which totaled $22,050.
Those donations came from PACs inside and outside Maine, including the American Insurance Association, Free and Strong America, Haley’s Leadership PAC, the Maine Beverage Association, the Maine Energy Marketers Association, the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, the Retail Lumber Dealers Association of Maine, Nestle Waters North America and U.S. Cellular, among others.
Democrat Elizabeth Mitchell, who placed third in the 2010 gubernatorial election, did not receive any PAC money because her campaign was supported by the Maine Clean Election Fund.
Lizzy Reinholt, a spokeswoman for Michaud, the likely Democratic Party candidate in the 2014 governor’s race, said she viewed Cutler taking a stand against PACs as relatively inconsequential.
“We’re fortunate in Maine to have the strict campaign finance laws that we do. PACs can’t have any more influence than individuals do,” she said, referring to the fact that PACs adhere to the same contribution limits as individuals. “It’s not a surprise that [Cutler] would bar PAC money. Given the fact he has no major endorsements, he probably doesn’t have PACs lining up to donate.”
Canney said one factor that amplifies Cutler’s announcement is that because of contribution limits in Maine, major party candidates can collect a total of $3,000 from each donor, $1,500 for the primary election, regardless of whether there are primary challengers, and $1,500 for the general election. As an unenrolled candidate, Cutler is limited to $1,500 from each donor.
“The campaign is ahead of where it was this time four years ago,” said Canney. “We’re very pleased with where we are.”
Personal spending by the candidates could be another factor. LePage and his wife, Ann LePage, donated more than $181,000 to the Republican’s election bid in 2010, according to the Maine Ethics Commission. Cutler spent more than $1.7 million of his own money.
Though Cutler, Michaud and LePage are presumed to be the three major gubernatorial candidates, none of them can begin collecting the necessary signatures to qualify for ballot placement until next month. The filing deadline for those signatures isn’t until March.
Reinholt and Brent Littlefield, LePage’s chief campaign consultant, said they were also happy with their fundraising totals to date, though none of the three campaigns would disclose any details. The filing cutoff for the next campaign finance reporting period is Tuesday but the actual filing deadline is Jan. 15. All three campaigns have been active on social media and in email blasts, urging supporters to donate before Tuesday’s deadline.
Tuesday is also a filing deadline for candidates in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, which has drawn heavy interest nationally and in Maine because Michaud will be vacating what has been considered a safe seat for Democrats to run for governor.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Cutler decided Monday not to accept campaign donations from any political action committees for the 2014 election. Cutler announced his decision Monday but made the decision earlier in his campaign, said Crystal Canney.