AUGUSTA, Maine — Mainers will vote in less than six weeks on a referendum seeking to overturn a new vaccination law, but the latest people’s veto campaign to be decided on March 3 hasn’t generated the buzz or campaign cash that previous ballot initiatives have.
The referendum aims to repeal a bill signed by Gov. Janet Mills last May that would eliminate religious and philosophical exemptions from mandatory school vaccinations in Maine. The bill — now on hold ahead of the March vote — was largely led by Democrats, passing with just three Republican votes in the House and one in the Senate.
The main group opposing the law and driving the people’s veto — Mainers for Health and Parental Rights — raised nearly $204,000 through 2019’s end, largely from individual donors, according to the latest campaign finance reports filed with the Maine Ethics Commission.
The biggest donors to the cause were Stephanie Grondin, who manages the office at her husband’s chiropractic office in Augusta and gave the group a $25,000 loan, along with University of Maine economics professor Aaron Hoshide, who donated $13,500.
Mainers for Health and Parental Rights also gave more than $27,000 to another political committee — Yes on 1 — that is also backing the people’s veto and has raised another $112,000.
The primary group backing the law and opposing the people’s veto, Maine Families for Vaccines, raised just over $58,000 as of December’s end, with $25,000 coming from the Maine Hospital Association, according to its campaign finance report. Another $5,000 came from the Maine Academy of Family Physicians.
The totals for both the supporters and opponents are significantly less than what groups on both sides of ballot questions have raised in previous elections. The last five people’s veto efforts that made it to a statewide ballot have been successful, dating back to 2008.
Most recently, voters approved a referendum in 2018 to keep ranked-choice voting after the Legislature had voted to delay its enactment. Two groups supporting it — the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting and the Chamberlain Project — raised more than $1.4 million with no organized opposition.
The vaccine bill drew intense public testimony last spring, with hundreds of Maine residents flocking to Augusta to get their word in with legislators. Opponents of the bill cited personal liberty and some unscientific concerns about the potential dangers of vaccines.
Supporters pointed to outbreaks of preventable diseases, such as measles or pertussis, as the vaccination rate among children in Maine has dropped in recent years, with 6.2 percent of kindergartners going without the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine during the 2018-2019 school year, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.