Put simply, no.
In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission opened the floodgates to unlimited campaign spending by special interest groups, corporations, unions and wealthy individuals.
Much of that money is funneled to so-called super PACs, which can spend any amount to influence state and federal candidate elections with no requirement to disclose the sources of their funding.
That, regrettably, is the law of the land.
Even so, that hasn’t stopped Maine’s U.S. Senate candidates from trying to gain a political advantage on the issue.
On the day after the party primary elections, Angus King stole the media spotlight by calling on his general election opponents to eschew campaign spending by outside groups and super PACs.
It was a savvy political move, allowing King to channel voter frustration and cast himself as a reformer intent on fixing a system corrupted by money, influence peddling and quid-pro-quo politics.
However, beyond the effective political stagecraft, King’s challenge was largely symbolic and certainly self-serving.
First, the U.S. Senate candidates have no control over outside political expenditures. These groups are required by law to operate independently from the campaigns.
Second, because he is the undisputed front-runner, any outside expenditures would likely target King.
It is hardly a moment of political courage to call for a ban on super PAC spending that conveniently takes yourself out of the crosshairs.
Finally, as a successful businessman and entrepreneur, King has the ability to write his campaign a significant check if his candidacy comes under attack from his opponents or outside interests.
Why would King’s fellow candidates, who lack similar personal resources and are unlikely to match King’s fundraising prowess, unilaterally disarm by renouncing independent expenditures while King sits atop a personal campaign munitions depot?
For her part, Democratic candidate Cynthia Dill responded to King’s challenge by offering one of her own. Dill suggested limiting direct campaign contributions to a maximum of $500 and a prohibition on self-financing.
To her credit, Dill’s proposal actually addressed things within the campaigns’ direct control. Even so, her proposal smacks of campaign theater.
One of Dill’s biggest challenges will be raising money, particularly when much of the traditional Democratic donor base will be writing checks to King.
As a result, Dill’s proposal to cap direct campaign contributions and restrict self-financing involves more than a little self-serving political gamesmanship.
Even so, one wonders why Dill would voluntarily propose limiting her own ability to raise money when she will undoubtedly need every dollar available to be competitive.
Charlie Summers is counting on both big donors and outside spending to help him win a U.S. Senate seat that safely belonged to his party for the last 18 years.
If any outside money enters this race, it will likely benefit Summers.
Right-wing ads will portray King as a liberal, big-spending Democrat in independent’s clothing and Summers as a moderate Republican most deserving of the voter coalition Sen. Olympia Snowe cultivated over three Senate election cycles.
But for all the political posturing, significant outside spending in Maine’s Senate race is no sure bet.
It’s possible, given Maine’s comparatively cheap media market, that we’ll see an early television bomblet from a super PAC or other independent organization to test Angus’ mettle and voters’ receptiveness to negative messages about him.
If the candidate responds well and voters are unmoved, however, further outside spending will be diverted to competitive races around the country where it can have an actual impact.
Those dollars will remain outside Maine’s borders through Election Day unless King stumbles grievously or one of the party candidates catches fire and gives King a real race.
Michael Cuzzi is a former campaign aide to President Obama and other Democratic candidates. He manages the Portland office for VOX Global, a strategic communications and public affairs firm located in Portland. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter.com @CuzziMJ.
Mike Cuzzi puts it simply and well. To his argument I would add that the desired returns on out-of-state investments in Maine campaigns are highly partisan or narrowly focused. The 2010 election cycle gives us a notable case to analyze and, for Angus King, an example to follow.
In late October of 2010 the Republican State Leadership Council spent $400,000 trying to influence the outcome of five Maine Senate races. The independent expenditures from the RSLC were clumsy.
One ad referred to then-Augusta Mayor and Republican Senate candidate Roger Katz (rhymes with gates) as “Roger Cats.”
Other ads were just wrong.
In the last week of the campaign, the RSLC blanketed Senate District 28 in Hancock County with inaccurate ads suggesting the Democrat candidate in the race, Blue Hill Selectman Jim Schatz, voted against funding for local fireworks while approving a taxpayer contribution to a political organization.
For Republican Brian Langley, the eventual winner, the ads presented a leadership moment.
Langley said the ads from Washington were extremely disruptive to what had been an honorable and issue-based campaign. In response he urged WLBZ in Bangor to pull the RSLC’s ad from the air. He also changed his own advertising over the final weekend of the campaign to condemn the outside attacks against his opponent.
Langley went on to win by a large margin and the Maine Ethics Commission assessed a $26,000 fine, the largest in its history, against the RSLC for failing to file timely expenditure reports.
Schatz contends Langley could have done more to address the actual content of the ads and that a green independent was ultimately the critical factor in his defeat. Nevertheless, Schatz felt strongly enough about the expenditures to file a defamation suit against the RSLC. The suit was recently dismissed.
The Republican State Leadership Council’s efforts in Maine were part of a $30 million nationwide effort in 2010 to elect Republicans to statewide offices and gain control of legislative chambers that would play a critical role in congressional redistricting.
During Maine’s 2011 redistricting debate, Republicans were considering a partisan realignment plan that would have moved 8,000 GOP voters into the second district. Eventually a bipartisan compromise earned near unanimous support in the Legislature.
King has proposed that the candidates in Maine’s U.S. Senate race agree as a group to distance themselves from third party expenditures. When asked if he would go it alone, King responded, “My inclination is to do so but on the other hand I don’t like to go into a fight with one hand tied behind my back.”
If King is committed to being the change agent he talks about on the campaign trail he should follow his instincts and Langley’s lead on third-party expenditures. Standing, perhaps alone, against the partisan and narrow interests of independent expenditures would be a meaningful start to taking on the impediments to greater-good governing in America.
Dan Demeritt is a Republican political consultant and public relations specialist. He is a former communications director for Gov. LePage. He can be contacted at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter.com @demerittdan.