AUGUSTA, Maine — Independent candidate for governor Eliot Cutler, who in December announced that he will campaign “unbought” and without help from political action committees, said Friday that he has no control over a PAC set up recently for his campaign’s benefit.
The Campaign for Maine PAC, which supported Cutler in 2010 and spent more than $500,000 on his behalf, re-registered with the Maine Ethics Commission late last month with the stated goal of supporting Cutler’s campaign.
“I have said that I will not accept money from special interest PACs, and I meant it,” said Cutler on Friday in a prepared statement. “I hope that an independent expenditures committee that supports my candidacy will follow the same policy, but I can’t control what they do. I can say that publicly, but under the rules that the Democrats and Republicans crafted, I cannot have any direct communications with independent committees about fundraising policies or campaign strategy.”
Campaign for Maine contributed more than $530,000 for Cutler’s benefit in the 2010 election cycle, according to campaign finance reports. That money supplemented his campaign’s own spending of more than $2.1 million.
As of its latest filing in January of this year, the PAC had about $72,000 cash on hand.
Cutler’s campaign manager, Ted O’Meara, said Friday that Cutler hopes Campaign for Maine will be selective about who it accepts contributions from.
Betsy Smith, the former executive director of Equality Maine, who is running Campaign for Maine, said the PAC hasn’t considered whether it should set benchmarks for who can contribute and who can’t.
“Anyone who supports Eliot Cutler being elected is welcome to join us and help us fund these efforts,” she said. “There could be a situation where we don’t [accept a contribution] but honestly we haven’t talked about that.”
Smith said that for the current election cycle, all contributions so far have come from individuals.
Cutler’s political opponents said the continued activity of Campaign for Maine throws a shadow over Cutler’s campaign theme of independence.
Brent Littlefield is running Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s re-election campaign. LePage beat Cutler by less than 2 percentage points, or about 10,000 votes, in 2010’s five-way gubernatorial contest.
“Cutler benefited somewhat in 2010 by appearing to be truly independent,” Littlefield wrote Friday in response to emailed questions. “However, his outspoken support for the government takeover of health care with its disastrous rollout and other liberal policies have evaporated any veneer that he is a moderate. No super PAC spending will save him from the truth.”
Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant said he saw the re-registration of the Campaign for Maine PAC as a response to Cutler’s consistent third-place ranking behind LePage and Democratic candidate Mike Michaud in recent polls.
“What we’ve heard from Eliot Cutler and what we’re seeing from his campaign are two very different things,” said Grant in a prepared statement. “Now that his supporters admit he is trailing badly in the polls, they are asking for unlimited contributions to a PAC to prop up the Cutler campaign. His campaign’s rhetoric about being ‘unbought’ is meaningless if he turns a blind eye to this strategy.”
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