This year’s battle for seats in the Maine Legislature is on pace to be the most expensive ever.
An examination of state records shows that political party committees and outside interest groups have spent more than $1 million attempting to influence dozens of legislative races with television, radio and print ads.
More than three weeks before Election Day, with the most frantic spending still to come, spending by entities other than the candidates themselves is poised to eclipse the $1.5 million from 2010 and far surpass the $635,000 spent in 2008.
That shows the high stakes that local and national interests see in the outcome on Nov. 6.
For Republicans, the election could validate initiatives passed in the last two years with their party in control at the State House: the largest tax cut in Maine history, reduced insurance and business regulations, and lower state spending.
Democrats, meanwhile, say that two more years of Republican power will continue the erosion of health care for low-income Mainers, attacks against organized labor and a squeeze on the middle class.
A large portion of the campaign spending has been directed by the state parties’ committees. And a significant amount has come from out-of-state interests — unions, insurance companies, big tobacco — that will expect a return on investment.
So far, interest groups and party committees have spent more than $618,000 on races for the state Senate, where Republicans hold a 19-15 advantage (one member is unenrolled), and $437,500 on contests for seats in the House, where Republicans have a 77-70 edge (two members unenrolled, two seats vacant).
The Maine Democratic Party has spent $290,285 on legislative races. The Maine Republican Party has spent $273,157.
The Maine Senate Majority PAC is the third most prolific spender — $119,809 so far. The group is funded by the Republican State Leadership Committee, a Virginia-based organization whose largest donors are Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield, big tobacco and Republican groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The fourth biggest spender is Citizens Who Support Public Schools, with $76,279 so far. The group is funded mostly by teachers unions.
The Committee to Rebuild Maine’s Middle Class, funded by national labor groups and traditional Maine Democratic donors, is a distant fifth. It has spent more than $37,000, mostly on mailers and grass-roots voter contact efforts.
It has received funding from S. Donald Sussman, majority owner of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. Sussman has given $160,000 to three Democratic PACs in this election cycle.
Close to 78 percent of the Senate money has been directed to five races. The money is more evenly divided in the House races.
The five most expensive Senate races stand out for the messaging that’s being used and the interests behind the money.
• Groups have spent more than $187,000 on the race in District 32 between Republican Sen. Nichi Farnham of Bangor and Democrat Geoffrey Gratwick of Bangor.
More than $128,000 has come from the Maine Senate Majority PAC.
Maine Senate Majority has spent its money mostly on negative ads portraying Gratwick as a tax-and-spend liberal.
The Maine Democratic Party has countered with $27,920 worth of ads that paint Farnham as a close ally of Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
The Committee to Rebuild Maine’s Middle Class has kicked in more than $10,730.
• The second most expensive race is for the open seat in Senate District 6, including Gorham and Scarborough. The race between Republican Ruth Summers of Scarborough and Democrat Jim Boyle of Gorham has drawn $103,334 so far, mostly for negative ads.
Maine Senate Majority has blasted Boyle with more than $73,000 worth of ads, including a television spot.
Democratic groups, meanwhile, have exploited Summers’ involvement with virtual schools, which critics say emphasize profits over education.
Citizens Who Support Public Schools began circulating mailers this week that claim Summers “is out for herself, not for our kids” and feature children with price tags.
• Similar messaging has been used in District 17, where Republican Sen. Garrett Mason of Lisbon and Democratic challenger Colleen Quint of Minot are vying to represent 10 towns in Androscoggin County.
Groups have spent more than $83,000 on the race. Mason, the Senate co-chair of the Legislature’s Education Committee, is under fire for supporting charter- and virtual-school legislation, and for his alliance with LePage. Democratic groups have spent more than $54,000 trying to defeat him.
• Fourth on the list is Senate District 25 in Kennebec County, where groups have spent $57,379.
The Democratic Party has spent $26,199 against Republican Sen. Thomas Martin of Benton, while the Maine Republican Party has spent close to $25,000 in an effort to help Martin defeat Democrat Colleen Lachowicz of Waterville.
• Senate District 22 in Knox County is fifth with $49,025 spent so far. Most of the spending has been directed by Democratic groups that hope Democratic challenger Ed Mazurek of Rockland can topple Republican Sen. Chris Rector of Thomaston.
Republicans have used limited resources to help Rector. The Maine Republican Party has spent just over $4,000.
Spending has hit five figures in 14 races for Maine House seats. The PACs that have spent heavily on Senate races also are the biggest spenders in the top five House races, in:
• District 80, between Republican Rep. Melvin Newendyke of Litchfield and Democrat Rachel Lynne Sukeforth of Litchfield ($13,417).
• District 16, between Republican Rep. Doug Damon of Bangor and Democrat John Schneck of Bangor ($13,006).
• District 128, between Republican Rep. Heather Sirocki of Scarborough and Democrat Jean Marie-Caterina of Scarborough ($12,701).
• District 54, between Republican Rep. Susan Morissette of Winslow and Democrat Catherine Nadeau of Winslow ($12,633).
• District 127, between Republican Rep. Amy Volk of Scarborough and Democrat Paul Aranson of Scarborough ($12,494).
Staff Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: