The three leading gubernatorial candidates have spent a combined $4,000 on entertaining and fundraising at Portland’s Cumberland Club, an 1877 mansion that was once the private playground for wealthy cigar-smoking, pool-playing industrialists.
It is assumed that Republican Gov. Paul LePage, Democrat U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler all complied with the club’s six-page code of conduct, which requires civility in “both word and deed” and forbids “short pants for men.”
The money spent at the Cumberland Club is just a fraction of the $2.8 million in combined spending by the three leading gubernatorial candidates as of July 15, when the last reporting period ended. Expenses range from the mundane, such as office supplies from Staples, to the interesting, such as where the campaigns get their food. They also reveal the priorities and strategies of the campaigns, which, for example, have spent a combined $191,700 just to bring in more donations.
The Portland Press Herald analyzed spending data reported to the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, opening a window on three campaigns engaged in a highly competitive race that is garnering attention from national media outlets and groups with a stake in the outcome.
THE BIG PICTURE ON SPENDING
Even the cumulative spending – $1.5 million for Cutler, more than $916,000 for Michaud and $326,700 for LePage – illustrates the differences both among the candidates themselves and what their campaigns are focusing on so far.
LePage’s campaign contends that his relatively light spending reflects the governor’s fiscal prudence, while his challengers’ spending foreshadows a cavalier regard for taxpayer dollars.
However, the spending differences may also highlight the power of incumbency and the fact that LePage doesn’t need to spend money to make news.
For every news release issued by the LePage campaign this year, five releases have been issued by the governor’s office, many of which highlighted policies or touted the state’s declining unemployment rate.
And, while Michaud also has a platform as a six-term congressman (his congressional office has issued more than 170 media releases this year), it’s clear that the governor’s statements, controversial or otherwise, attract the most media attention. Media stories mentioning LePage have received significantly more interest on the Web than stories mentioning his challengers, according to a Google analysis of trending news stories. Michaud is second in Web audience, while Cutler, who has to rely on campaign events and media coverage for a megaphone, is third.
NO PRIMARY? THINK AGAIN
Political observers have often described the contest between Michaud and Cutler as a quasi primary.
They are certainly spending that way. Their combined expenditures represent 86 percent of the total spent by the three campaigns through mid-July.
Much of this money has been devoted to staff and consultants, both of which perform important tasks, such as media relations, voter outreach, polling and fundraising.
Cutler has spent the most – more than $1 million – on consultants and staff, compared with more than $516,000 by Michaud and more than $180,000 by LePage. This category represents more than 70 percent of Cutler’s expenditures, 55 percent of LePage’s and 54 percent of Michaud’s.
The difference reflects that Cutler is forced to spend more on some activities than the other candidates, who can sometimes split expenses with their respective party organizations, including the Republican and Democratic governors associations.
Cutler has received some scrutiny for spending more than $635,000 on consulting, compared with about $317,000 by Michaud and about $108,000 by LePage. However, it is not an apples-to-apples comparison – a staff position in one campaign may be a consulting expense on another.
Maine campaign-finance reporting laws allow campaigns to classify consultants as staff, or vice versa. For example, Michaud’s spokeswoman, Lizzy Reinholt, is listed as a paid campaign staffer, while her counterpart in the Cutler campaign, Crystal Canney, is classified as a consultant through her firms The Knight Canney Group and Canney Communications. Ted O’Meara, Cutler’s campaign manager, is reimbursed through his marketing firm Garrand.
The Cutler camp has paid nearly $258,000 to Garrand and $70,000 to Canney’s firms, according to the finance reports. The Michaud campaign has paid about $37,000 to Reinholt and more than $28,000 to Matt McTighe, Michaud’s campaign manager. Michaud also has paid $80,000 to the law firm Bernstein Shur for consulting services, covering the salary of senior adviser David Farmer.
The LePage campaign also has taken a hybrid approach to staffing. Brent Littlefield, the governor’s political adviser, is reimbursed through his D.C.-based consulting firm, while Scott Van Orman is the campaign manager. Littlefield’s firm has received nearly $45,000, according to finance reports. The campaign has not reported any payments to Van Orman, who was brought in near the close of the last reporting period.
SPENDING MONEY TO MAKE IT
Fundraising has been a significant focus of the campaigns in what is expected to be the most expensive gubernatorial contest in state history.
Although outside interest groups or political action committees are expected to bring in much of the money, the campaigns are also putting a lot of energy into making sure there’s cash on hand for the final stretch.
Michaud, for example, has spent nearly $90,000 on fundraising coordination and events, an aggressive effort designed to fence off donors who might otherwise consider giving to Cutler.
The efforts brought in nearly $2 million by the end of the reporting period, and Michaud had a little more than $1 million cash on hand as of July 15.
Michaud has used two consulting firms to spearhead the money gathering.
One firm is Starting Point Ops, a Portland based firm with a client list dominated by marriage equality and lesbian gay bisexual transgender advocacy organizations. Michaud could become the nation’s first openly gay elected governor.
The second firm is Angerholzer Broz Consulting, a renowned Washington, D.C., shop that advises and organizes fundraisers for Democratic members of Congress and left-leaning corporations, trade groups and nonprofits.
In September 2013, Michaud’s campaign paid Angerholzer nearly $13,000 to organize a fundraiser, the single largest expenditure for fundraising consulting by any candidate in the race.
Cutler has spent nearly $60,000 on fundraising, nearly $50,000 of it on fundraising consultants. He has raised more than $2 million in cash, although nearly $1 million of that was his own money. Cutler had $527,000 in cash on hand as of mid-July.
In 2013, the Cutler campaign leaned heavily on the D.C.-based Katz Watson Group for fundraising. Katz Watson claims a host of clients, including independent U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine and Democrat Hillary Clinton’s exploratory presidential committee.
Cutler’s campaign appears to have shifted toward the Gorham-based Peachtree Strategies since late January – Cutler has paid Peachtree more than $24,000.
LePage’s campaign has so far brought in less cash than his challengers – just over $1.3 million raised with $917,000 on hand as of July 15. But his campaign appears to be getting the biggest bang for its buck. He has spent just over $41,700 on fundraising events and consultants.
FOLLOWING THE MONEY TRAIL
Where is the money ending up? All over the country.
Maine-based businesses, particularly political consultants, have received 71 percent of the money spent by the three campaigns.
Cutler has spent more than $1.25 million in Maine, Michaud more than $544,000 and LePage nearly $200,000. Washington, D.C. businesses – again mostly consulting firms – are the second-biggest beneficiaries, receiving nearly $407,000 from the three campaigns.
Michaud leads in Beltway spending with more than $233,000, followed by Cutler with more than $128,000 and LePage with more than $45,000.
It’s in states that have received smaller spending amounts where the flow gets interesting. For example, Michaud has spent more than $40,000 in Florida. Why? The campaign uses First Data Merchant Services, located in Fort Lauderdale, for its electronic banking.
Cutler has spent more than $103,000 in California, mostly on micro-targeting ads by Google and Facebook. The independent has been the most aggressive user of Google and Facebook ads, so much so that an online producer for the Press Herald discovered one of Cutler’s ads on a blog featuring pictures of “awkwardly sitting cats.”
Michaud has spent more than $18,000 in California, mostly on Google and Facebook ads.
LePage doesn’t appear to have spent a dime on Google and Facebook ads, but his campaign has spent more than $15,000 in California.
Those contributions went to a San Francisco company called Piryx, Inc., which developed the crowdfunding website Rally.org that has been used by Republican and Democratic candidates. Ironically, Tom Steyer is one of the investors in Rally.org. Steyer, an avowed environmentalist, has pledged to spend more than $50 million to defeat candidates he has deemed as enemies of the environment. One of his targets: LePage.
WINE, DINE, FLY, STAY AT HOTELS
Food? Fun? The campaigns have had some.
Between events at the Cumberland Club – which, incidentally, banned women until 1979 and Jews and African Americans before that – the Peaks Island Inn and the Augusta Country Club, the campaigns have thrown a few parties.
Michaud, who has paid more than $16,000 for food during the campaign, held one of the most expensive events, spending nearly $6,000 at the Peak’s Island Inn in August 2013. Cutler’s top food expense was a nearly $4,000 catered event in Washington, D.C. The independent has spent more than $15,000 on food for campaign events.
The LePage campaign has spent more than $8,200, and two of his biggest events were for food during the Republican State Convention in Bangor ($1,377) and an event at DiMillo’s on the Water in Portland ($1,304).
While the big-ticket events stand out, most of the food expenses were devoted to reimbursing staff for quick meals.
The campaigns spent nearly $55,000 on travel, most of it within the state, and on reimbursing staff for mileage. The LePage campaign spent the most – nearly $22,000. Much of the travel expense was for airfare for staff to attend training and meetings sponsored by the Republican Governors Association in Arizona and New York. Included in the RGA trips was $460 for a room at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan.
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: