Friday, March 7, 2014
* Updated at 5:40 p.m. with Maine Democratic Party response
* Updated at 7:45 p.m. with Republican consultant response - S.M.
It was apparent before, but now it's official: The battle for state Senate District 32 in Bangor is on.
Recent filings with the state Ethics Commission show that the Maine Senate Republican Majority PAC is spending $72,919 on television ads attacking Democratic candidate Geoffrey Gratwick. Republican PACs have already been running mailers in the district, as have Democratic-aligned groups.
The Senate Democratic Campaign Committee spent $3,664 attacking Republican Nichi Farnham in a series of television ads that her labeled and four other state senators as "rubber-stampers" of Gov. Paul LePage's agenda. The TV ads were part of a $19,851 buy in August.
The same PAC ran mailers against Farnham, but it's not yet clear how much it has spent there.
The Republican buy signals that a lot of money will be directed to the race to influence its outcome. District 32 is no stranger to that kind of activity.
In 2010, Republican and Democratic groups spent a combined $162,150. Farnham won the race and his currently serving her first term. The spending was marked increase over the $11,627 directed there in 2008.
However, the the $72,919 TV buy is more than any single expenditure from 2010, including the $70,760 spent by the Republican State Leadership Committee. The RSLC spent nearly $400,000 on several state senate races in 2010.
The Maine Democratic Party announced that it was filing an ethics complaint against Farnham -- its second so far. The party argued that because Farnham receives public financing and controls the spending decisions of the Republican PAC now attacking her opponent, that she has violated the Maine Clean Elections Act.
The law prohibits publicly financed candidates from making independent expenditures on their own race.
Ben Grant, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, said the violation is "egregious."
"Nichi Farnham clearly doesn’t understand the law, or she doesn’t care," Grant said in a statement.
Later Wednesday evening, James Cote, a consultant for the Maine Senate Republican Majority PAC, issued a statement saying that Farnham's involvement with the group was an "administrative error." Cote said that he had documents to prove that Farnham was not involved with the PAC.
“Let me be absolutely clear, Nichi Farnham has never participated in any discussion regarding independent expenditures from the Maine Senate Republican Majority PAC during this campaign, nor has she ever coordinated any expenditure with that of her own campaign,” Cote said.
S. Donald Sussman, the majority owner of the Portland Press Herald, Maine Sunday Telegram and other MaineToday papers, has made significant donations to the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee.
Steve Mistler covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.