AUGUSTA, Maine — Independent Eliot Cutler continues to far outpace incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud in spending on the 2014 governor’s race, despite the fact that contributions to his campaign, especially in recent weeks, have been meager.
While the Cutler campaign insists that the absence of a primary election for independents puts them at a disadvantage, it’s difficult to discount the major disparity in the amounts of money raised in the most recent reporting period, which ran from April 23 through May 27. LePage led all three candidates with $180,805, followed by Michaud with $152,104 and Cutler with about $33,400, according to online reports kept by the Maine Ethics Commission.
Donations to LePage were likely bolstered by the fact that lobbyists and their organizations are barred from donating to Maine’s governor while the Legislature is in session. The latest reporting period reflects donations made after the Legislature adjourned.
Cutler campaign spokeswoman Crystal Canney said another factor is affecting Cutler’s fundraising: As an independent he is not subject to a primary election, which means the limit he can collect from each donor is $1,500. LePage and Michaud are allowed to collect double that from each individual, $1,500 for the primary and $1,500 for the general election.
“It’s a pre-primary report and we don’t have a primary so it’s not one of our internal fundraising deadlines,” said Canney. “We also don’t have a [political] party and we don’t have all those special interest groups who are doing most of the work for the other two candidates. … Independents don’t have a party so they have to significantly self-finance.”
Neither LePage nor Michaud has a primary opponent in the 2014 governor’s race.
In the final reporting period before the 2010 primary, Cutler’s donations and expenditures both lagged behind the same period this year. In 2010 he took in less than $15,000 in the weeks before the primary and spent about $62,000 in the same period.
His increased spending this year could be due to the fact that both LePage and Michaud are in high-visibility elected offices, or to the fact that Cutler is polling far ahead of where he was in May 2010.
In total fundraising, Michaud leads with more than $1.6 million raised, followed by Cutler with more than $1.2 million — including $400,000 that Cutler donated to his own campaign — and LePage with just over $1 million.
In his second bid for the Blaine House, Cutler has invested heavily in trying to gain traction early. His campaign has already spent more than $1.2 million. That has far outpaced Michaud, who has spent $756,000 and LePage, who has spent just $261,000.
The most recent finance reports show that Cutler has matched Michaud in spending in the reporting period, with both campaigns spending approximately $104,000 between April 23 and May 27. LePage spent nearly $38,000 in that period.
Other than salaries and payments to a range of consultants in public relations, strategy and other areas, the Cutler campaign’s largest payments in recent weeks have been to Garrand, a Portland media consulting firm that employs Ted O’Meara, Cutler’s campaign manager, and the Knight Canney Group, which is co-owned by campaign spokeswoman Canney.
The campaign finance reports show that Cutler is focused to some degree on advertising in social media, with several payments of hundreds of dollars to Google and Facebook.
The LePage campaign, at least for the latest reporting period, reported spending thousands of dollars on print mailers and postage. The campaign also spent $3,400 in reimbursements to the Maine Republican Party for expenses associated with the Republican State Convention in late April and on May 15 gave a $10,000 contribution to the party.
Asked about the latter donation, LePage campaign political adviser Brent Littlefield did not elaborate, simply writing in an email to the BDN that “the LePage campaign is supporting the GOP team.”
Michaud also spent large amounts of money on expenses associated with mailers and television advertisements and gave tens of thousands of dollars to a range of consultants between April 23 and May 27.
Littlefield continued a line of attack on the Michaud campaign that has been ongoing for months when it comes to campaign spending.
“When looking at campaign spending, it is clear that Michael Michaud runs his campaign like he has tried to run Washington, with runaway spending that shows no end in sight,” Littlefield said in a written statement.
Responding to the fact that Cutler filed signatures to appear on the November ballot last week, Littlefield wrote, “We welcome Eliot Cutler to the race.”
Many political observers believe that if LePage wins re-election, it will be because Cutler attracts anti-LePage votes that would otherwise go to Michaud, though the Cutler campaign insists the independent has his own viable path to victory.
The Michaud campaign said the robust fundraising puts him in a strong position heading into summer.
“Mike continues to prove he’s the only candidate in the race who has the grassroots support and the resources to defeat Gov. LePage this fall,” said Matt McTighe, Michaud’s campaign manager, in a written statement.
At the Democratic State Convention on Saturday in Bangor, Michaud said he doesn’t expect Cutler to build momentum.
“This clearly is a two-person race,” Michaud said. “It’s Gov. LePage and myself.”
Canney said she’s confident that donations to Cutler will pick up after the primary, as voters begin to pay more attention to the governor’s race.