In the struggle for control of the state Legislature, Maine Democrats have raised nearly twice as much money for their principal war chests as their Republican rivals this election cycle.
The fundraising advantage is largely because of two large gifts to the Maine Democrats’ House and Senate campaign committees by the national party almost a year ago. The state’s Republicans have not received a comparable gift from their national party committees.
Between Jan. 1, 2015, and July 19, 2016, the Democrats’ primary Senate war chest – the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee – raised $369,426, while its Republican equivalent, the Maine Senate Republican Majority, received $151,518, according to campaign finance disclosures filed with the State Ethics Commission.
Similarly, the House Democratic Campaign Committee – which raises money for that party’s candidates to the House – raised $310,654 during the same period. The rival House Republican Majority Fund raised $176,877.
In both matchups, the Democrats benefited from $110,000 contributions to each of the funds by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee in Washington, D.C., made in September 2015, making this national party entity far and away the largest donor to the local funds, which are typically used to support legislative candidates and the election year overhead of the state parties.
Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, said he actually found the numbers encouraging, as they indicated the two state parties were roughly equal in fundraising this cycle, if national party gifts are ignored. “I think that speaks to an increased competitiveness among the two,” he said. “It used to be the Democrats were strong.”
“I do think there may be an impact in the psychology of some of the donors on the left who have spent millions of dollars in recent elections and not gotten results out of it,” Savage said. “We tend to make more effective use of our money.”
Phil Bartlett, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, said in a written statement that he believed the DLCC made the contributions because they are “eager to help Maine elect a Democratic Legislature to provide a check on a governor who has caused Maine to lag behind the national economic recovery and who has put Maine in the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons.”
Bartlett noted that just two weeks before the 2010 election, a national Republican PAC spent nearly $500,000 on advertising “smear campaigns” against five Democratic state Senate candidates. (The ads taken out by the Republican State Leadership Committee – the counterpart to the DLCC – were condemned at the time by leading Republican state senators as tone deaf and counterproductive.) “We will not let their lies go unanswered,” Bartlett said.
Jim Melcher, a political scientist at the University of Maine-Farmington, said that the DLCC may have put money into Maine early because the party believes it has a good chance of taking control of the state Senate. “If you put money in early, it can help spur reluctant candidates to run,” Melcher said. “Someone is more likely to jump into a race if they think they will have money.”
Melcher also noted that with the rise of so-called super PACs, the party’s House and Senate war chests are no longer as critical as they once were. “Independent expenditures are much more important than they were just a few years ago, so it’s a more complicated world now,” he said.
As of July 19 – the end of the most recent reporting period – the Democrats also had a similar advantage in cash on hand. Their Senate legislative war chest had $237,573 after having transferred $94,000 to the state party’s committee earlier this year. The Republicans’ Senate fund had $105,801 on the same date.
The Democrats’ House fund had $97,145 on hand after sending $60,000 earlier in the year to the state party committee. Their Republican equivalent had $92,263 on hand.
The Republican State Leadership Committee has a Maine PAC set up that could be used to channel expenditures into legislative races, but in mid-July it had no money on hand.
WHO THE DONORS ARE
Apart from the DLCC ($110,000), the top donors to the Democrats’ state Senate war chest were outgoing Democratic Senate Leader Justin Alfond of Portland, who gave $20,000 via his leadership PAC; Portland developer and philanthropist Cyrus Hagge and retired billionaire real estate developer Robert Bowditch of Brookline, Massachusetts (who each gave $10,000); and Portland political advertising firm CD2 Consulting ($8,489).
The biggest donor to Maine Republicans’ Senate war chest is Time Warner ($15,000), followed by the Maine Credit Union League and the trucking industry (via their Maine Truck PAC), which each gave $7,500; Central Maine Power’s PACs ($5,250); FedEx ($5,000) and the leadership PAC of Senate President Mike Thibodeau of Winterport ($5,000).
The biggest donors to the Democrats’ war chest for House races were the DLCC ($110,000); Hagge ($20,000); Time Warner ($14,500); Dan Hildreth of Falmouth, chair of Diversified Communications ($10,000); and the leadership PAC of Rep. Aaron Frey of Bangor ($7,599).
The largest donor to the Republican House Majority Fund was Paul Coloumbe of Southport, founder of Lewiston’s White Rock Distilleries, who gave $60,000. The next four were Time Warner ($7,500); the Maine Credit Union League, the Maine Bankers Association, and FedEx ($5,000 each).
Time Warner – which spent much of 2015 lobbying against a bill that would have helped municipalities create their own high-speed broadband networks – gave generously to both parties. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said the company’s concerns had been accommodated with the passage of legislation last year that encourages towns to develop plans for their desired broadband network and puts them out to bid to the private sector, which would build and operate them.
Two other big bipartisan donors, the industry associations of Maine’s banks and credit unions, have lobbied extensively on a wide range of bills affecting the industry, from the state budget to a foreclosure reform law that might have made it more difficult to collect mortgage debts.
FedEx, the Memphis-based worldwide delivery service, is a leading donor to the Republicans’ legislative war chests, although it has had no lobbying activity here. Asked to comment on their interests in Maine, a company spokesperson responded with a generic one-sentence statement saying such donations are used to further the interests of the company and its shareholders.
The pharmaceutical industry also was among the biggest donors to Republicans. London-based drug giant AstraZeneca gave $4,500 to the party’s Senate war chest and $3,500 to its House one, while industry association PhRMA gave $4,000 to the Senate fund and $2,500 to the House. PhRMA also gave $2,000 to the Senate Democrats. AstraZeneca has lobbied in Maine to prevent the importation of drugs from foreign countries and a bill that would have prevented bad faith assertions of patent infringement, among other issues.