The first wave of televised political ads by an outside group attempting to influence the U.S. Senate race in Maine is expected to hit local screens today.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has purchased what appears to be close to $200,000 in ads in Maine media markets, according to several public disclosure documents at local stations. The ads target Angus King, the independent former governor who enjoys front-runner status in recent polls.
“While King was governor, state spending skyrocketed to $2.6 billion; the king of mismanagement, when King left office, he left Maine with a $1 billion shortfall,” the narrarator in the ad says.
Graphics in the ad label King “the king of spending.”
If the advertising cost estimate holds true, it will be the largest single campaign expenditure this year in a race that may help determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.
The purchase comes amid the chamber’s multi-state ad blitz targeting Democratic congressional candidates. While the content of the Maine ads is not yet known, many of the spots currently running in Florida, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio and Wisconsin attack Democratic congressional candidates. That trend may foreshadow a rough few days for King, who Republicans have portrayed as a big-spending Democrat cloaked as an independent.
State Sen. Cynthia Dill is the Democrat on the ballot in the U.S. Senate race in November.
The Maine ads also follow the chamber’s endorsement of Republican candidate Charlie Summers, which was announced Wednesday.
The chamber did not respond to a request for comment.
Public disclosure forms at WCSH Channel 6, the Portland-based NBC affiliate, show the chamber has purchased $62,365 for 58 spots that will begin running Thursday. Some of the spots run during prime-time programs, such as the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games — a spot that cost $6,000.
Records at WGME Channel 13, the local CBS affiliate, show 71 ad buys by the chamber totaling more than $42,000.
Advertising executives at WMTW Channel 8 told the Portland Press Herald that the chamber bought several spots totaling about $25,000.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has vowed to become a major player during the 2012 election. National campaign spending experts have predicted that the organization, a lobbying group that represents the interests of businesses, will spend as much as $100 million attempting to influence elections this year.
Campaign finance laws do not require the chamber, a nonprofit organization, to disclose its donors. That the organization can shield its donors has made it the target of transparency groups.
The chamber and other outside groups are advertising in a number of states to see whether the ads change the numbers in the races, said Anthony Corrado, a Colby College professor of government. If the ads work, he said, that attracts more money.
Corrado said the size of the initial ad purchases is somewhat conservative compared with a full-fledged effort to swing the elections. The chamber and other outside groups could spend millions of dollars in Maine if the race tightens, he said.
Corrado also said the chamber has become a major financial force in tight congressional races now that such nonprofits can spend unlimited money on political advertising without having to disclose where they get the money and how they spend it.
“What we know is that in each election cycle the chamber has spent more and more, (and) in 2010 the chamber was the number one spender on television advertising among these outside groups,” Corrado said. “They have said they are going to spend even more this election cycle.”
Crystal Canney, spokeswoman for King, said Wednesday the campaign knew about the ad buy, which she described as “business as usual in Washington.”
“We’ve been expecting this,” Canney said. “The U.S. Chamber endorsement of Charlie Summers shows just how out of touch the organization is with Maine’s business community.”
Canney added that King had a strong record of supporting Maine businesses during his eight years as governor, including successful efforts to save jobs at Bath Iron Works with a shipbuilding tax credit program, luring National Semiconductor to Maine and creating the Maine International Trade Association.
King, in a separate comment, said: “Now I understand why Charlie Summers didn’t agree to keep super PACs out of Maine,” a reference to King’s challenge to the other candidates last month to participate in a plan to discourage spending on the Senate race by outside groups.
Federal election laws prohibit outside groups like the chamber and so-called super PACs from collaborating with individual campaign committees. However, campaign finance experts like Corrado say the outside groups often have relationships with the candidates and follow the lead of the campaigns.
Lance Dutson, the campaign manager for Summers, said the ad buy shows that King’s record as governor makes him “extremely vulnerable to the issues that people care about now, which is jobs and the economy.
“He managed the state in a way that was not fiscally responsible,” Dutson added. “Americans right, left and center understand that’s (not) what we need right now.”
Dutson said he had not seen the ads.
Dutson said King’s comparison of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to a super PAC was “ridiculous.”
“(The chamber) is the national representative of business and the free market today, and Charlie is proud to have received their endorsement,” Dutson said.
Dutson added that the ad buy was a sign that King’s victory in November is not inevitable, adding that groups like the chamber wouldn’t make such a significant investment if Summers wasn’t viable.
“I think this is one of many soon-to-come signs that this is a serious race,” Dutson said. “Free-marketers and business people want to keep this seat in Republican hands. And they see Charlie has a great chance to do it.”
Staff Writer John Richardson contributed to this report.
Staff Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:
This story was updated to show that the television ads target King.