November 27, 2012

Snowe's political donations, calls for unity at odds

She backed Maine Republicans who were far from centrists, but says her campaign support was tied to their loyalty, not ideology.

By Colin Woodard
Staff Writer

When U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe made her surprise announcement in February that she would not seek re-election, she condemned the "atmosphere of polarization and 'my way or the highway' ideologies" in Washington and stressed the "vital need for the political center in order for our democracy to flourish."

But in Maine, her political donations this year went exclusively to Republicans, including Gov. Paul LePage and a number of legislative candidates who few would identify with the political center.

The scale of giving was not enormous. Snowe for Senate, using campaign funds that Snowe didn't need, donated $19,545 to Maine candidates and political action committees from Feb. 28, when Snowe announced her retirement, until Oct. 1, when the campaign organization was renamed Olympia's List and refocused on supporting "individuals who will follow the principles of consensus-building."

Nearly one-third of the donations went to entities that supported Republican legislative candidates. Snowe for Senate gave $1,000 to the Maine Senate Republican Fund, $4,500 to the Republican Speakers Fund and $895 to the Maine Republican Party.

Another $3,000 went to Gov. Paul LePage's 2014 re-election campaign, in two transfers made on July 10.

The rest went to 35 Republican legislative candidates, each of whom received $350, the maximum allowed. Recipients included conservative Republicans well outside the political center, including:

• Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon, one of only four senators to receive a perfect 100 percent rating from Maine People Before Politics, LePage's political organization.

• House Assistant Majority Leader Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, who in the last session received a zero percent rating from the liberal Maine Peoples Alliance.

• Rep. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough, whom the Washington, D.C.-based League of Conservation Voters named to its nationwide "dirty dozen" list of the "most anti-environmental politicians running in competitive races this year."

• Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, who took offense when a Unitarian minister led the Legislature in a prayer to God "in all Your many names -- Yahweh, Allah, God." Volk was criticized by liberal groups for posting: "Someone needs to let her know we're not a Muslim nation" on her Facebook page.

• Seven other Republican House members who received 100 percent scores from Maine People Before Politics.

Snowe also recorded a campaign phone call in support of Volk and appeared in a television ad supporting Chris Tyll, a Republican who challenged independent Sen. Richard Woodbury, whose ratings from Maine People Before Politics and the Maine Peoples Alliance would make him the most centrist state senator.

Snowe's campaign treasurer, Lucas Caron, said the campaign gave to candidates who backed Snowe's re-election before she withdrew.

"The senator had supported anybody who supported her race, and that was done by Snowe for Senate before it closed its books on Oct. 1," Caron said.

"Sen. Snowe felt pretty strongly that we should do all our giving before Olympia's List came into being," he said. "It is not an indicator of how the PAC will be involved in politics going forward."

According to the Federal Election Commission's campaign finance databases, Snowe's Senate campaigns never received donations from Mason, Cushing, Sirocki, Volk, Tyll or LePage.

Caron said each either endorsed Snowe or worked for her re-election, for instance, by serving as town or county campaign chair.

In addition to the $3,000 donation from Snowe for Senate, LePage's re-election campaign received $3,000 from Snowe's husband, former Gov. John McKernan, on March 9.

(Continued on page 2)

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