AUGUSTA, Maine — A new political action committee that is supporting Democrat Mike Michaud in Maine’s hotly contested governor’s race said Monday that it will launch a television advertising campaign worth at least $2 million in the run-up to the November election.
Consultants with experience in political media buys said that is an eyebrow-raising level of spending. If it materializes, Michaud ads are sure to blanket the television airwaves during the weeks before the election.
“That’s sort of Sen. Collins territory at that point,” said Roy Lenardson, president and owner of Portland- and Augusta-based Strategic Advocacy, which works exclusively for Republicans. “It’s a level of spending you associate with the big-dog campaigns. … When you have the words ‘million’ and ‘Maine spent,’ that’s just a lot. … You can get a week’s worth of television advertising in Greater Portland for $100,000.”
The Maine Forward PAC registered with the state’s campaign finance watchdog in April. According to Sean Sinclair, who is a consultant for the organization, the group is already reserving air time on cable and broadcast stations for the fall in order to lock in better rates.
“But this television buy is just the starting point,” wrote Sinclair in an email to the Bangor Daily News. “This coalition is committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure that Mike Michaud replaces [Republican] Paul LePage.”
Independent Eliot Cutler, who finished a close second to LePage in 2010’s five-person gubernatorial election, is the third major candidate on this year’s ballot.
Listed in the PAC’s registration documents as founding organizations are the Democratic Governors Association, the Maine Education Association, state employee union MSEA-SEIU Local 1989, the Maine AFL-CIO and the Maine People’s Alliance.
Dennis Bailey, owner of Savvy Inc., has worked on campaigns for Republicans, Democrats and independents, as well as several ballot question campaigns, including a 2003 effort against casino gambling in Maine. He said about 70 percent of that campaign’s $3 million budget was for television advertising over a nearly three-month period. Bailey agreed that $2 million in political advertising is a lot.
“That’s a substantial buy,” said Bailey. “That would be huge, actually.”
Bailey estimated that a typical political campaign, in the fall, could spend anywhere between $100,000 and $250,000 per week depending on where the advertisements were broadcast and during which programs.
The Maine Forward PAC will have to collect significantly more funds to reach its $2 million advertising goal. According to initial financial reports filed by the PAC, it is receiving major support from labor unions and the Democratic Governors Association. The DGA has given the PAC $165,000. The Maine Education Association chipped in $16,000 and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees gave $50,000. In addition, the Maine Conservation Voters Action Fund gave the PAC $50,000 in June, according to the latest campaign finance data recorded by the Maine Ethics Commission.
Sinclair said the coalition represents more than 100,000 Mainers who are committed to replacing LePage with Michaud. Unions, state retirees and state workers also have been among the groups that have sparred most aggressively with LePage during his governorship.
“That’s why this coalition of organizations representing working families, women, seniors and teachers from across Maine is now laying the groundwork to run a modern and robust campaign to stop Paul LePage,” Sinclair said.
Spokespeople for LePage and Cutler said they weren’t surprised to see who is on the donor list.
“After all, [Michaud] is a congressional Democrat who has taken millions of dollars from virtually any group that would give to him — big tobacco, big pharma, Monsanto, the sugar lobby, the corporate gun lobby and big labor,” said Cutler spokeswoman Crystal Canney. “Eliot has pledged not to take any special interest money because he is committed to being a governor unbought and unbossed by organized labor and any other special interest group.”
Though candidates and PACs are not allowed under Maine law to coordinate, Cutler, who has contributed more than $500,000 to his own campaign and has pledged to match donations through July 15, is again benefitting from the Campaign for Maine PAC, which spent more than $500,000 on the independent’s behalf in 2010. That PAC is supported by numerous individuals who hail from a variety of industries, including financial firms, medical companies, energy and mining interests and others.
LePage spokesman Alex Willette on Monday called the new PAC support for Michaud predictable.
“He’s always been awash with special interest money going back to his time in the Legislature,” said Willette. “Those special interests aren’t the ones who have the Maine people at heart.”
Though there are numerous PACs registered in Maine to support GOP candidates, only the RGA Maine PAC, which is supported by the national Republican Governors Association, is dedicated to LePage. The PAC has piled up hundreds of thousands of dollars this year, and as of the end of May had more than $184,000 on hand.
Both Canney and Willette said their campaigns will launch television campaigns and continue advertising in social media.
Michaud spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt dismissed the reactions from the LePage and Cutler campaigns and said this election is about Michaud’s “positive vision of change.”
“Outside groups have already begun to spend in this race, and we have no control over that,” she said.