AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s low-key 2017 statewide slate of referendum questions has been funded to the tune of $11.7 million, with most of it coming from a handful of wealthy backers and national groups orchestrating efforts to pass a York County casino and Medicaid expansion.
At nearly $9.6 million, Question 1 backers, led by Northern Mariana Islands casino developer Shawn Scott, have injected 13 times more into the race than their opposition, which is funded by Kentucky-based Churchill Downs, the owner of Oxford Casino. The fundraising dates to 2015, when the group sought to place a question on the 2016 ballot.
Proponents of Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act in Question 2 have raised nearly $2.1 million, or five times more than conservative opponents linked to Gov. Paul LePage’s political apparatus.
The Question 1 fundraising effort is already in trouble: Several campaign backers face millions in possible penalties from the Maine Ethics Commission, which began investigating them after a committee run by Scott’s sister revised filings in April to say that $4.3 million in funds originally attributed to her came from other companies.
The largest donor to the effort has been Capital Seven LLC, a Nevada company that has kicked in more than $6 million so far. That’s no shock because the company belongs to Scott and would have rights to the casino if Mainers pass Question 1 on Tuesday and if it later wins local approval.
Nearly $3.3 million has come from two other companies: Atlantic and Pacific Capital LLC, a New York City company run by Scott and Regent Able Associate Co., a Japanese consulting company that also invested in a failed Scott-linked 2016 casino campaign in Massachusetts.
Big-money donors are also dominating the pro-Medicaid expansion campaign and the anti-Scott campaign from Churchill Downs — and to a lesser extent, the anti-expansion bid.
The biggest donor to the Question 2 effort, led by Mainers for Health Care, a coalition of progressive groups, has been a fund linked to the progressive Arabella Advisors, which gave more than $860,000. The Fairness Project, a California group aligned with labor interests, has kicked in $644,000.
Churchill Downs has been virtually the sole funder of A Bad Deal for Maine, the political committee run by Republican operatives Roy Lenardson and Trevor Bragdon that is opposing Question 1 and has brought in $735,000.
The Welfare to Work PAC, which is opposing Question 2, has raised $415,000, with 80 percent of that coming from individual donors. However, it’s not exactly grassroots with prominent Republican donors footing the bills.
Auburn developer George Schott and former liquor magnate Paul Coulombe of Boothbay Harbor have each given $50,000. Bob and Gary Bahre, a New Hampshire father and son who developed Oxford Casino, gave a total of $50,000, as did L.L. Bean heiress Linda Bean and her sister, Diana Bean.
Scott’s pro-Question 1 campaign has dumped a large amount into its campaign infrastructure, spending $4.8 million — or 57 percent of all spending — on staff and equipment. They’ve hired a massive slate of consultants, including the Washington, D.C.-based Goddard Gunster, which helped engineer Great Britain’s 2016 vote to depart from the European Union.
That campaign has set aside another $2.9 million — or 35 percent of its spending — for ads to date. The other campaigns are more ad-heavy. The pro-expansion side has put $1.5 million — or 83 percent of spending — into ads. The anti-expansion side has used 97 percent of spending for that and the anti-Scott campaign has used 54 percent.
Together, the proponents and opponents of Question 1 and Question 2 have spent $11.1 million of their $12.9 million as of Nov. 1. That leaves $1.8 million more for ad blitzes during the last weekend of the campaign, with more money likely to come in.
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Correction: Correction: A previous version of this story double-counted contributions in support of Question 1, to expand Medicaid. Contribution totals for all campaigns were reported incorrectly. Political groups reporting contributions sometimes forward that money onto other groups, leading to double-counting in campaign finance data. The story and graphics have been updated accordingly.