Central Maine Power's proposed transmission line would cross right over the trail Duane Hanson uses to get to his off-the-grid home near the Canadian border. Credit: Fred Bever | Maine Public

The television ads related to CMP’s proposed $1 billion transmission line project started late last year when Stop The Corridor, often referred to as a “dark money” group because its funding source is unknown, ran an ad in several Maine markets. The ad told viewers “CMP wants to build a transmission line as wide as the New Jersey Turnpike through western Maine,” adding “It’s a bad deal. It’s bad for Maine.”

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Since then, the group has run other television ads that misleadingly compare the 145-mile corridor the line will pass through — most of which already exists — to the New Jersey Turnpike, and told viewers to call Gov. Janet Mills and express disappointment that she’s “switching sides” on the project after CMP offered a “backroom deal.”

The deal the ad is referring to is the 40-year, $260 million stipulation package negotiated in private and approved by the three-member Public Utilities Commission appointed by Gov. Paul LePage. The package will be worth $72 million in today’s dollars. In total, Stop the Corridor has spent at least $520,000 on television ads.

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CMP and NECEC’s ads have mostly focused on the project’s benefits for Mainers, including carbon emission reductions and new jobs. For example, a recent ad says the line will produce a carbon emission reduction equivalent to “taking 700,000 cars off regional roads.” It also said that the line will create 1,600 jobs new in Maine.

An independent projection estimated the line will create 1,600 jobs annually during the anticipated four-year construction period, but that same analysis found that just 38 jobs would be required annually to maintain and operate the line after construction is complete.

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Pro-line spots have also criticized the “dark money” funding ads critical of the project. One 30-second TV spot opens by asking: “Who’s funding the shadow attacks on the proposal to bring more hydropower to Maine?” However, that question is misleading since virtually all of the power sold over a completed line would power homes and businesses in Massachusetts, not Maine. Together, CMP and NECEC have spent at least $720,000 on television ads.

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The two camps spend very differently on Facebook ads. While CMP and NECEC combined to spend $70,000 buying ads on the social media giant, Stop the Corridor has spent more than $240,000.

Pro-line Facebook ads are mostly run under the NECEC banner. They typically tout the advantages of the project, targeting residents of specific towns along the proposed route. For example, one ad that began running in June stated “New tax revenue and community benefits to Durham!” and touted $62,275 in tax revenue for the town of around 4,000 residents.

Many of Stop the Corridor’s Facebook ads call on residents in some of those same towns to attend meetings and cast votes — mostly ceremonial — against the project. For example, an ad that ran in late June called on Jay residents to “be sure to vote on June 24 to stop the corridor!” Another ad that ran earlier in the month called on residents to “tell your local legislators to vote YES on LD 1383 and 1363.”

State law requires registered lobbyists to disclose efforts to convince the general public to contact lawmakers —which the state regards as “indirect lobbying.” But no such law applies to non-lobbyists.

But Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Maine Ethics Commission, which oversees political spending in the state, said that this summer his staff “will be re-examining the scope of the current grassroots lobbying disclosure requirement, and may discuss with the commissioners whether to propose a broader requirement to the Maine Legislature.”