AUGUSTA – Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, who is running for state Senate and has gained national prominence for supporting marijuana legalization and eliminating superdelegates is flush with money from small, out-of-state donors.
Russell raised nearly $87,000 from January through May.
Staff of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices believes her fundraising total is among the highest raised in Maine history for a legislative primary, said Jonathan Wayne, the ethics commission’s executive director.
Maine voters will go to the polls next week to participate in a legislative primary marked by an influx of money and attention to Russell’s campaign.
According to the reports, Russell has sharply outraised all other legislative candidates this cycle. She is serving her fourth term in the Legislature.
The next biggest fundraisers are Republican Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn, who has raised $28,171 and will defend his seat against Democrat Kimberly Sampson of Auburn this fall, and Democrat Rep. Barry Hobbins of Saco, who has raised $23,050 and faces a primary fight against Rep. Justin Chenette of Saco.
Russell called the contributions to her campaign “a humbling display of grassroots support.”
Russell claims more than 96 percent of her donations were raised through online “Bernie Sanders-style” fundraising, preventing her from having to “rely on lobbyists or Wall Street billionaires.”
At this year’s Maine Democratic State Convention, Russell sponsored a proposal calling for the national party to eliminate its system of superdelegates, who are free to vote for the candidate of their choosing.
The proposal also strips power from superdelegates by requiring that by 2020, the state party chairman must ensure the delegation sent to the national convention reflects the outcome of the state vote.
Russell was one of 60 political and business leaders to endorse Sanders, who won the Maine caucuses with 64 percent of the vote.
She has said she’s been inundated with calls from Democrats in other states looking to do away with superdelegates and regularly posts on social media about similar proposals.
Russell has received $6,706 in itemized contributions from individual donors in California, which may consider a ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana this fall.
So far this cycle, Russell has reported about $36,000 from named donors who gave an average $32 per contribution. Most of such contributions came from out-of-state donors, with Maine voters contributing roughly $5,700.
About 60 percent of her contributions came from donors who gave $50 or less, meaning their names and addresses didn’t have to be reported.
Named donors were from across the country and the world, with a few from Thailand, France, Germany, Denmark and Sweden. The campaign told state regulators it’s verifying the eligibility of such donations.
Russell is running against Charles Radis of Peaks Island and Rep. Benjamin Chipman of Portland. Radis contributed about three-fourths of the roughly $12,700 he has raised. Chipman, a Maine Clean Election candidate, has received $10,000 from the state fund and nearly $3,000 in restricted seed money contributions.
This year, Russell has spent about $66,000 – with $32,800 going toward mailing and printing and $18,500 for campaign staff and consultants.
Russell failed to file her Working Families PAC’s report in January or July of 2015, leading to a $2,131 penalty for violating campaign finance law. Russell also was two months late in returning unspent public funds due in December 2014.
In December 2015, the Maine ethics commission fined her PAC $2,000 for failing to report several expenditures for more than a year.