For every vote he earned Tuesday, Gov. Paul LePage and his supporters spent about $20.
Democrat Mike Michaud and the groups supporting him spent roughly $38 per vote. Independent Eliot Cutler, who received far less financial support from outside groups, spent about $61.
Although the final numbers won’t finish trickling in until next month, when campaigns’ post-election finance reports are due, as of Thursday nearly $19.2 million had been spent on the governor’s race alone – more than twice the amount in 2010.
“I think this is the new model in campaign spending, particularly the amount being spent by outside groups,” said Anthony Corrado, a campaign finance expert and a professor at Colby College in Waterville. “Part of the high spending this year was a function of how competitive the race was.”
LePage, who was re-elected to a second term with 48 percent support, got the best deal for his 294,189 votes, with a level of spending that seems to reflect his credentials as a fiscal conservative.
The Republican’s campaign spent approximately $1.8 million, about $1 million less than both Michaud and Cutler. Factoring in the outside money spent to support LePage’s campaign and to oppose Michaud’s – most of it coming from the Republican Governors Association – roughly $5.9 million was invested in helping to elect LePage.
Michaud’s campaign spent $2.9 million and benefited from a total of $7.2 million from political action committees and other outside groups supporting his campaign or opposing LePage, and received 264,369 votes.
Cutler nearly matched Michaud in campaign spending, with about $2.8 million, but received only $342,000 in support from outside groups to garner 51,405 votes.
Vote totals were as of Thursday with all 587 of Maine’s precincts reporting.
Spending this year dwarfed the 2010 governor’s race.
In 2010, the three major candidates – LePage, Cutler and Democrat Libby Mitchell – combined to spend $5.1 million. This year, LePage, Cutler and Michaud spent a total of $7.5 million.
But the real disparity was in outside money.
Four years ago, $3.9 million in PAC money was spent on the governor’s race. This year that ballooned to $11.6 million, aided in large part by U.S. Supreme Court rulings that eliminated any contribution limits.
Another $2.4 million in outside money was spent on legislative races.
“I think (that) given recent actions by the Supreme Court, you’re not going to be able to stop the flow of independent spending or this unlimited giving by some wealthy contributors,” Corrado said. “And no candidate wants to lose because they didn’t spend enough.”
But big spending didn’t lead to results.
Groups supporting Michaud spent more than $4 million just to oppose LePage, with most of that going to television advertising. By comparison, pro-LePage PACs spent $1.9 million to oppose Michaud.
Corrado believes most voters have come to expect big spending, but not everyone is happy about big money in Maine elections.
Cutler, for instance, often talked about PAC money during his campaign and said it gave the major parties a built-in advantage.
A nonprofit group, Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, has begun gathering signatures for a citizens initiative that would strengthen the Clean Elections system, which has seen a drastic reduction in funding under LePage.