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 cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Despite being affiliated with rival wings of their party, Snowe and LePage have actively supported one another. Snowe endorsed and gave to LePage in his 2010 gubernatorial run, and has continued to support him.

LePage, who ran away from an abusive home when he was 11, has said that Snowe's first husband, the late Peter Snowe, helped him gain admission to Husson College and helped pay his first year's tuition.

LePage endorsed Snowe last year, upsetting some of his tea party supporters.

Snowe for Senate became Olympia's List with about $500,000 to use for political purposes. (Another $1.2 million has been set aside to create a women's leadership institute.) On the organization's website, Snowe says Olympia's List seeks to support candidates with a "commitment to solving our nation's problems."

The website features a list of centrists in Congress produced by the nonpartisan National Journal, including Democrats, Republicans and independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman. The magazine gave all members of Congress liberal and conservative "composite index ratings" of 0 to 100. Nobody with a conservative or liberal rating higher than 65 is featured by Olympia's List.

Caron, who runs Olympia's List, said the National Journal list is "one of the things we would look at" in deciding whom to support, but formal criteria have yet to be developed. He said it hasn't yet been decided whether the organization will be involved in state-level races or concentrate solely on federal ones.

Several political observers said they were not surprised by Snowe's pattern of giving.

"A successful career in politics is about creating and maintaining relationships, and if Olympia Snowe feels like she owes a variety of state legislators who have helped her carry her agenda in the past, it makes sense to help them now," said Ron Schmidt, associate professor of political science at the University of Southern Maine.

"If it's money that came in before she founded the new organization, I think they would probably say this was money donated to Olympia Snowe on the basis that she was a Republican and to help Republican causes and Republicans in Maine," said Jim Melcher, associate professor of political science at the University of Maine-Farmington. "It would be a tough sell for them to say, 'Hey, we gave this money to elect moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats.'"

Emily Shaw, assistant professor of political science at Thomas College in Waterville, said the contributions may be compensation for leaving the party little time to find another U.S. Senate candidate and not backing its nominee, Charlie Summers, who had not endorsed Snowe when asked.

"The relationship between Snowe and the Maine Republican Party is a long and deep one, so she may have had to mend fences," Shaw said.

Snowe did campaign for her former chief of staff, outgoing state Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, who tried unsuccessfully to unseat Second District Rep. Michael Michaud.

"It may be a combination of loyalty and a desperation to keep the (Maine) House and Senate," said Andrew Ian Dodge, a former tea party organizer who initially challenged Snowe for the Republican nomination, then ran as an independent in the general election.

"As much as I'm critical of LePage and Snowe," he said, "that kind of loyalty, when someone goes out of their way to help you, is impressive."

Melcher said he expects Olympia's List to change direction from Snowe for Senate.

"I suspect you'll see a very different pattern two years from now," he said, "because it would be hard to sell an organization like that to new donors that come in if you're only supporting Republicans."

Olympia's List will develop criteria before the 2014 campaign, Caron said, and has not given any political donations since coming into existence Oct. 1.

Staff Writer Colin Woodard can be contacted at 791-6317 or at:

cwoodard@pressherald.com 

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