A recent spike in campaign rhetoric is a sure sign that Democrats and Republicans have a lot riding on the battle for the Legislature. The parties and their proxies are spending that way, too.
Campaign finance reports show that the Maine Democratic Party raised $733,000 from July 18 to Sept. 30, compared with $274,000 by the Maine Republican Party.
Democrats have now out-raised Republicans, $1.4 million to $828,00. But the most recent quarterly reports and expenditures by political action committees show that out-of-state groups with an interest — and potentially a say — in the bills the next Legislature considers are also spending here.
The Republican State Leadership Committee, a Virginia-based group that spent more than $400,000 in five state Senate races in 2010, has returned with a $330,000 investment in 2012.
Who is bankrolling its expenditure in Maine isn’t entirely clear. However, its federal filings show that its largest contributors are Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield ($2.4 million), Reynolds American ($705,000), Devon Energy ($600,000), Altria Group ($489,620), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ($475,399), the American Justice Partnership ($440,000), Walmart Stores ($287,119) and the Republican Governors Association ($275,000).
On the Democratic side, the multi-union-backed Committee to Rebuild Maine’s Middle Class has established a war chest and ground game worth more than $341,000.
The committee is funded by state and Washington, D.C., labor groups, including the National Education Association Advancement Fund ($75,000), AFSCME ($50,000), the Maine Education Association ($33,000) and Maine donors Cyrus Hagge ($10,000) and S. Donald Sussman ($10,000).
Sussman, who has donated a total of $160,600 to three Democratic PACs and another $100,000 to the group supporting Maine’s same-sex marriage referendum, is majority owner of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.
At stake in the election, for Republicans, is maintaining their majorities in the Legislature while Republican Gov. Paul LePage remains in office.
The party’s strength in numbers, which began in 2010, has produced tax cuts, an overhaul of health insurance laws and regulatory reforms that Republicans say will better Maine’s business climate.
Democrats, meanwhile, are promoting a pro-worker, pro-middle class, anti-LePage message that they hope will help them retake at least one chamber of the Legislature.
Four weeks before Election Day, the parties and proxy groups have been active. Where that money has been directed reveals where the races may be the most competitive.
The most expensive state Senate race so far has been in District 32, which covers Bangor and Hermon.
Spending reports show that Democratic and Republican groups have targeted the race between Republican Sen. Nichi Farnham and Democratic challenger Geoffrey Gratwick more than 10 times, spending $109,522 in all.
Nearly $73,000 of that was spent on a single television ad buy from the Maine Senate Republican Majority PAC. Observers say the TV buy, which targets Gratwick, may be the largest single expenditure ever for a legislative race in Maine.
The Republican State Leadership Committee, which spent a total of $70,760 in District 32 in 2010, appears to have bankrolled this year’s TV ad buy against Gratwick by funneling $220,000 to the Maine Senate Republican Majority PAC.
Elsewhere, a battle is unfolding for the District 6 Senate seat in Gorham and Scarborough, where spending has totaled $41,668.
Groups have intensified spending in recent weeks. Last week, the Senate Republican Majority PAC reported a TV ad buy of nearly $21,000 opposing Democrat Jim Boyle.
Democratic groups, meanwhile, have been using mailers in an attempt to link Republican Ruth Summers with a controversy over virtual schools generated by an investigation by the Maine Sunday Telegram.
Republicans have gone on the offensive in Senate District 25, where Republican incumbent Thomas Martin faces Democratic challenger Colleen Lachowicz. The race has been targeted by Republican and Democratic groups nearly 10 times, totaling nearly $50,000 in spending.
The Maine Republican Party last week spent more than $14,000 on mailers and a website blasting Lachowicz for online comments she made while playing the video game “World of Warcraft.”
Democratic and Republican groups are also battling in two Senate districts in Androscoggin County. PACs have spent nearly $40,000 in District 17, where Republican Sen. Garrett Mason is facing Democrat Christine Quint.
Republican Sen. Lois Snowe Mello and Democrat John Cleveland have seen nearly $29,000 spent on their race in District 15.
Staff Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: [email protected]