What we’re watching today
The state’s government ethics watchdog will take up complaints against opponents of a proposed powerline project today. The complaints concerning Say No to NECEC — the grassroots group leading the referendum charge against Central Maine Power’s New England Clean Energy Connect proposal — and dark-money group Stop the Corridor could lead to both groups having to disclose donors. The referendum was green-lit for the November ballot by Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office, but CMP is fighting it on multiple fronts.
The political committee funded by the utility brought the complaints to the Maine Ethics Commission, whose staff recommended last week that commissioners allow them to look into the anti-corridor groups further. The body will meet to discuss those complaints Tuesday morning.
The next part of the fight over the corridor may end up being in court. Dunlap said last week that corridor opponents got enough signatures to put the referendum on the ballot, even though Clean Energy Matters, CMP’s political committee alleged that opponents violated signature-gathering laws after hiring a private investigator in a major escalation in a war with corridor opponents. Dunlap’s office noted it didn’t have time to investigate the claims, but CMP and its allies have 10 days to challenge that decision in Maine Superior Court.
A Clean Energy Matters spokesperson said the utility’s political action committee plans to wait out that period before making a decision, but the ethics hearing today can be seen as a first step toward such a challenge as volleying claims are aired in public between the sides.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine’s three biggest private insurers are covering costs of coronavirus testing,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “Anthem, Harvard Pilgrim and Aetna — who collectively represent the majority of residents covered under large group plans, defined as plans with 101 or more employees — will waive all cost-sharing measures like copays and deductibles associated with testing.”
Coronavirus tests can now be conducted in-state. Maine will now test for coronavirus cases at a lab in Augusta after relying on a federal laboratory to test cases over the past week. The Maine Center for Disease Control said last week that about a dozen samples had been sent for testing, but none had come back positive so far, though some results are pending. Maine is one of 16 states without a confirmed case of coronavirus so far.
— “Joe Biden’s surprise Maine win could foreshadow a tough path for Bernie Sanders,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “[Joe] Biden won Maine by a slim margin, beating Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders by a margin of just 1.5 percentage points. While the two continue to compete for their party’s nomination, Maine, which went mostly overlooked by candidates in the lead-up to the primary, looks to be in an unusual spot as a presidential bellwether.”
— “Defendant in Maine’s first federal hate-crimes trial invokes former Gov. LePage: ‘He’s racist, not me,’” Nick Schroeder, BDN: “In a recording of a phone conversation between the defendant and his wife that was submitted as evidence Monday, Maurice Diggins defended the attacks on racist grounds and speculated that he would not be found guilty by a Maine jury, citing the former governor by name.”
Democratic group hits back with more ads in Senate race
— As a Republican super PAC launches new ads in the Maine Senate race, a powerful Democratic group is out with a new ad buy of its own. Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC affiliated with Democratic leadership, and its “dark money” arm Majority Forward are out with a six-figure TV ad buy across Maine over the next few weeks. That comes on the heels of another major ad buy by the 1820 PAC, a super PAC formed to back Republican Sen. Susan Collins, which we reported on yesterday. Outside money is going to be a key storyline in Maine’s 2020 Senate race, as super PACs and “dark money” nonprofits are allowed to spend without limits.
Of course, candidates themselves are also spending plenty. Collins’ campaign has already spent $3 million on TV ads, according to Advertising Analytics, while one of her Democratic challengers, House Speaker Sara Gideon, has spent $4.1 million. Former Google executive Ross LaJeunesse, one of the other Democrats competing in a four-way primary, also launched an ad campaign last week to a tune of $23,000, according to federal filings, with spots criticizing both Collins and Gideon.
Distracted driving law gets an update
— That was fast: A new law prohibiting the use of handheld devices was signed into law last week by Gov. Janet Mills with some key updates. Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, sought to amend the law he sponsored last year after the courts initially decided to set penalties for initial offenses much higher than what the law intended. After just passing through the House a few weeks ago, it’s been updated — a first-time offender can be fined $50 and any offenses after can net you “no less than” a $250 penalty. Here’s your soundtrack.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Jessica Piper and Caitlin Andrews. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email email@example.com (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.