August 18, 2018
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A clash of money and values revealed among Democrats for governor

By Darren Fishell, BDN Staff

This is the second of three stories about the 15 candidates vying for governor and whom they’ve supported financially in the past. The Bangor Daily News used public records to analyze their past giving.

The analysis highlights contradictions between their actions and words. And it shows what resources they’ve drawn from — such as their political action committee, business or personal savings — to donate to others, giving an idea of their networks and history.

Their contributions from their personal pockets date back as far as the early 1990s. Information on what their political action committees spent dates back a decade, to 2008.

Here are the Democrats.

Adam Cote

Attorney and Maine Army National Guard member Adam Cote has built an insider’s budget while running an outsider campaign that calls for new party leadership.

And while he’s raised more early cash than a field of candidates with deeper histories in Democratic donor networks, he’s given the second lowest amount to other Democratic candidates and causes over the years.

Since 2008, Cote has given at least $1,835 to Democratic candidates and causes, led by $525 to the Maine Democratic Party. In 2009, he gave $100 to support a same-sex marriage law that ultimately fell to a repeal at the ballot box.

“I don’t come from the political donor class,” wrote Cote, who is an energy attorney and CEO and was a 2008 candidate in the Democratic primary for Maine’s 1st Congressional District. “I come from a family of Maine teachers and welders in Sanford. I haven’t often had a lot of disposable income because I have spent much of the past 20 years serving and deployed in the Maine Army National Guard. My wife and I are raising five young children, while trying to save for their college and, maybe someday, our retirement.”

Meanwhile, Cote, who was the first candidate in the race, raised more than any other candidate for governor as of a December reporting deadline, taking in $527,000.

Cote touted that fundraising performance and support of current and former Democratic officials in a written statement. But, at the same time, he’s dubbed himself “a relative political outsider” in the field and in an April debate called for his party to “stop saying it’s so-and-so’s turn to run.”

Cote’s position as the fundraising leader contrasts with activist and political consultant Betsy Sweet and former Biddeford mayor Donna Dion. Dion has averaged the least political giving since 2009, and Cote has averaged the second-least. Sweet ranked third.

The difference is both Sweet and Dion sought to finance their campaigns using the state’s public financing system. Dion’s campaign ultimately did not qualify for public funds.

Mark Eves

Former Speaker of the House Mark Eves has put the most money into Democratic politics of any of his primary contenders, reflecting his role in a period of intense fundraising for House Democrats in 2012. The party had lost a House majority in 2010 for the first time in 40 years.

After the party won back a majority in both chambers in 2012, Eves became the party’s House leader.

Eves distributed the money he raised through a political action committee that fueled his run for speaker of the House. Parties require candidates for leadership to raise money to support the party’s electioneering and specific candidates.

Of the Democratic field for governor, Eves’ PAC was, by far, the most active, handing roughly $86,000 to the House Democratic Campaign Committee upon termination of his PAC last year. He also transferred $1,600 of that money to his gubernatorial campaign.

Eves received about three in four of those dollars from corporate sources or political action committees. Individuals and small donors made up the rest.

Eves said he could not speak to why donors contributed to his run for leadership. Donors included UK-based pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and Oxford Casino owner Churchill Downs, which both gave $3,250 in total between 2013 and 2016.

“I can tell you what I did with their money as a leader in the Maine House of Representatives: I spent it to support the election of Democrats who shared my progressive values,” Eves wrote.

Since 2010, Eves has directed $8,755 of his personal money and $90,077 of PAC cash to other Democratic candidates and causes.

He’s given the most personal cash, $1,851, through the Democratic donor network ActBlue. He gave $1,250 to Democrat Emily Cain to support her 2014 and 2016 runs for Congress. He also contributed $304 to support a 2012 referendum allowing gay marriage and $500 to fight repeal of Maine’s same-day voter registration.

Diane Russell

Diane Russell’s history of political giving is defined not by contributions to other candidates but payments to herself.

Ethics records show Russell has put about $3,000 in personal money toward Democratic causes and the campaign to legalize marijuana, following her rise in politics from a job as a cashier at a variety store at the top of Portland’s Munjoy Hill.

She also ran a PAC with a stated purpose to “help support Democrats in winning seats in the Maine House.” Yet she contributed just 3 percent, or $1,550, from her Working Families PAC to other campaigns or candidates, mostly to support Democrat Mike Michaud’s unsuccessful 2014 bid for governor.

The PAC had raised $55,300 in total between 2011 and 2017, mostly from individual donors. The funding source is uncommon; leadership PACs are most often backed by corporations and other PACs.

Russell herself is the top recipient of payments from the PAC, giving herself $12,823, mostly for online organizing and for incidental cash expenses while traveling to conferences outside Maine and sometimes outside the United States, according to Maine Ethics Commission records. The records also show the PAC purchased computers and other electronics.

While fundraising during a run for state Senate, Russell used an email list with about 140,000 names to reach some of those small donors. That list itself became a controversy, with ethics officials determining in 2016 that Russell’s use of the list constituted a contribution to her campaign, worth $1,500.

The Maine Ethics Commission is the second-highest recipient of cash from Russell’s PAC. She paid it $4,134 in fines in 2015 and 2016 as penalties for missing or incomplete finance reports.

Russell did not respond to a request for comment about her past fundraising and contributions.

Janet Mills

Attorney General Janet Mills has put more personal money into politics than any candidate in the Democratic primary. She has donated at least $14,000, primarily to Democratic groups and candidates, since 1990.

That long history reflects a flashpoint for the Democratic primary where Mills has become an early target, with half of the candidates directing their one question at Mills during a recent debate.

If being an “outsider” holds water with voters, Mills’ contribution history may play as a negative.

Mills’ history of personal contributions bolsters her status as a party loyalist, giving to a laundry list of fairly unsurprising Democratic candidates and causes, led by the Maine Democratic Party and Emily Cain’s unsuccessful 2014 and 2016 bids for Congress against Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin.

That giving sped up in the 2016 mid-term elections. Mills gave roughly $4,500 in that year, nearly four times the amount of political donations she made in any previous year.

But Mills’ total contributions fall far behind those of challengers Mark Eves and Mark Dion, who through political action committees have directed tens of thousands toward other campaigns.

Mills rejects the idea that voters will care about any of that.

“I believe voters will judge the candidates on their track record, qualifications, and vision for Maine’s future — not their fundraising numbers,” Mills wrote.

Mills’ only contributions that diverge from standard Democratic fare went, in 2009, to a Republican candidate for governor. That sounds more surprising than it is. She gave $100 to the unsuccessful primary campaign of her brother and then-state Sen. Peter Mills.

In 2003, she donated $300 to the unsuccessful campaign to oppose the expansion of slot machine gambling at commercial horse racing tracks, which paved the way for what are now Hollywood Casino and Oxford Casino.

In 2016, she gave $500 to Mainers for Fair Wages, the PAC seeking to raise Maine’s minimum wage to $12 by 2020.

Mark Dion

Dion has given $3,813 in personal money to other candidates and campaigns, ranking fourth in the Democratic field, according to campaign finance records. But giving from his political action committee put him behind only Eves for overall contributions.

Like Eves, the money is mostly thanks to corporate donors and political action committees that gave to his PAC, Dion for Maine. Law firms and telecommunications and energy companies made up the bulk of those donations. Dion sat on the legislative committee overseeing energy and telecommunications policy.

The donors included AT&T, Emera and FairPoint Communications.

Dion did not respond to requests for comment on his campaign finances, made at the email and phone number used to register his campaign.

With $55,500 raised through his PAC, Dion forked most of the money over to party committees, such as House and Senate Democratic campaign committees. Dion also contributed $250 to the congressional campaign of current Portland mayor Ethan Strimling, and he delivered $100 to a 2011 campaign to preserve same-day voter registration.

Betsy Sweet

Longtime progressive consultant Betsy Sweet has given thousands to Democrats and Democratic causes personally and through her business. But she’s campaigning this year against just that kind of political influence.

She’s criticized the role of money in politics in her current run, saying in an April debate that a $1,600 campaign contribution “changes you.”

“It’s human nature that you’re going to take that phone call, and then that starts to set the agenda,” she said.

Sweet has given roughly that much to a few candidates, including Democrat Ethan Strimling’s 2008 bid for Congress and John Baldacci’s 2002 gubernatorial run and his 2006 re-election campaign. She gave Strimling $2,000 and Baldacci $1,350 in personal funds.

In an email statement, Sweet said those contributions helped to elect “true heroes like Tom Andrews and Chellie Pingree who have fought for higher wages, more affordable health care and better educational outcomes for our kids.”

In 2008, Strimling ran against Pingree, to whom Sweet gave $250 for a 2002 congressional campaign. She also gave Andrews $250 for his unsuccessful 1994 Senate campaign against Republican Olympia Snowe.

Sweet also has contributed about $2,000 to Democratic causes through her progressive consulting business, Moose Ridge Associates, from 2008 through 2017. Most went to the House Democratic Campaign Committee to support Democratic legislative candidates.

But Sweet said she’s running in opposition to those kinds of contributions.

“Going forward, I hope these kinds of contributions are never needed again,” she wrote in an email.

Sweet is one of three candidates campaigning this year using taxpayer dollars, under the Maine Clean Election Act. Sweet has received $400,000 and could qualify for $150,000 more if she submits another 800 qualifying contributions of $5 before a May 22 deadline.

Donna Dion

Donna Dion, a former mayor of Biddeford and financial consultant for nonprofits, faces a tough road ahead to the primary with many fewer ties to Democratic politics than the other contenders, as evidenced by her history of party contributions.

Dion has given $450 to other candidates and campaigns since 1994, mostly to support same-sex marriage. In 1994, she supported then-Maine Senate President Dennis Dutremble’s challenge to Republican James Longley in the race for Maine’s 1st Congressional District.

Dion said she also supported the gubernatorial run of current U.S. Sen. Angus King with donations less than $100, which were not large enough to appear in campaign finance disclosures under her name.

“I typically support candidates or issues that I am interested in with volunteering my time,” Dion said.

While she failed to get public financing for her campaign, Dion said she may put a few thousand in personal funds into the race and will keep soliciting donations of no more than $100 from individual supporters.

Maine Focus is a journalism and community engagement initiative at the Bangor Daily News. Questions? Email mainefocus@bangordailynews.com.

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