May 28, 2020
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Third-place Cutler campaign far outspending LePage, Michaud in governor’s race

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Of the $2.7 million Cutler has raised since entering the race last year, the candidate contributed $1.1 million himself, including $100,000 on the last day of the reporting period that spanned July 16 to Sept. 16.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Spending by the three major candidates in the Maine governor’s race has reached $4.2 million with about 40 days left until the election, and their combined fundraising of more than $6.7 million has already surpassed the overall totals from four years ago.

In total, the three campaigns have in excess of another $2 million to spend, according to new campaign finance reports filed Tuesday. That does not include what’s likely to be a heavy influx of outside spending in the hotly contested race that could dwarf what the candidates spend themselves.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Democrat Mike Michaud have some $1 million of campaign cash each heading into the final weeks of the race, with independent Eliot Cutler sitting on about $380,000 in his campaign account.

Cutler’s cash-on-hand number is deceptively low, given the career lawyer’s ability and willingness to self-fund much of his campaign, which means he could meet or exceed whatever his opponents spend if he keeps writing checks. Of the $2.7 million Cutler has raised since entering the race last year, the candidate contributed $1.1 million himself, including $100,000 on the last day of the reporting period, which spanned July 16 to Sept. 16.

Cutler, who spent about $1.6 million of his own money while finishing a close second in the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, also is making heavy in-kind contributions, mostly for food, lodging and travel expenses, which totaled more than $12,000 in the latest reporting period.

Cutler’s spending to date of $2.2 million is well ahead of LePage and Michaud. Cutler spokeswoman Crystal Canney said Tuesday that while Cutler is trying to run an efficient campaign, his spending must be higher because, as an independent, he does not have entrenched major-party volunteer networks to knock on doors and operate phone banks.

Michaud, serving his sixth term as Maine’s 2nd District U.S. House representative, has raised $2.4 million in the gubernatorial campaign and spent more than $1.3 million. LePage has raised about $1.6 million and spent about $650,000 to date.

One of the more interesting numbers in the campaign finance reports is spending since mid-July, which is a loose indication of a campaign’s efforts to improve its position in the race. Cutler, who has trailed in distant third since the race took shape, claimed last week that his campaign’s internal polling showed his support at 19 percent, which is a markedly higher than he has polled in recent months. If that number is accurate — and his opponents question its validity — it could be a result of the fact that the independent spent $664,000 in the past two months.

That dwarfed Michaud’s spending during that time period of $443,000, and LePage’s $320,000, though LePage’s spending accelerated in September.

These totals reflect only direct spending by the candidates and don’t count millions of dollars of spending by independent groups and political action committees on their behalfs.

At this point in 2010, then-candidates LePage, Cutler, Democrat Libby Mitchell and independents Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott barely had passed the $3 million mark in combined spending. Mitchell’s spending and fundraising were limited by the fact that she ran as a Maine Clean Elections candidate.

Another difference between 2010 and now is a significant spike in how much money the candidates are gathering from out-of-state donors. An analysis of the latest campaign finance data by Maine Citizens for Clean Elections found that total donations to LePage, Michaud and Cutler from out-of-state sources has already reached nearly $1.5 million, more than four times the $350,000 that flowed into Maine in 2010. It represents nearly 22 percent of all donations this cycle, compared to 5.4 percent in 2010.

Republicans, Democrats and Cutler all have dramatically increased their out-of-state collections from 2010 levels, most notably Michaud, who has brought in $670,000, compared with $25,000 for Mitchell in 2010.

Among the reasons for the increase in out-of-state donations are changes to Maine election laws that have raised individual contribution limits from $750 to $3,000. In addition, a 2013 LePage-led budget initiative cut funding for the public election funding system, resulting in lower allocations for publicly funded Maine House and Senate candidates and no public funding for gubernatorial candidates.

“With seven weeks of the most intense fundraising still to go, out-of-state contributors are playing a larger role than ever before in our politics,” said Andrew Bossie, Maine Citizens for Clean Elections director. “Without a gubernatorial clean election option and with dramatically increased contribution limits, candidates are increasingly using wealthy out-of-state donors to fund their campaigns at the expense of everyday Maine voters.”

Maine Citizens for Clean Elections is collecting signatures to place a proposal on the November 2015 ballot that would boost public elections funding, lower the limit on individual donations and require newly elected governors to disclose donations and spending during their transition into office.

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