June 5, 2012

New PAC pours money into pro-racino candidates in Biddeford-Saco

The money comes from Ocean Properties Inc., the developer behind last year's proposal for a racino in Biddeford.

By Colin Woodard cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Ocean Properties has a record of aggressive political spending in support of its real estate projects.

Last year, the company spent $8.5 million backing the unsuccessful racino ballot measure. In 2008, its executives contributed relatively substantial amounts to Portland City Council candidates who supported their proposal to build an office and hotel development on the Maine State Pier.

This time, the company thinly veiled its involvement, making its contribution under a little-known subsidiary, 318 T Street, a limited liability company registered in Delaware. The PAC itself is run by Christie-Lee McNally, former executive director of the Maine Republican Party, whose Raven Strategies was paid more than $20,000 in consulting fees by Ocean Properties’ pro-casino ballot committee last year.

The PAC’s glossy fliers supporting Pilon began arriving in mailboxes Monday. McNally said print ads in support of Pilon and other candidates would appear in the upcoming editions of local weekly newspapers.

“These are positive independent expenditures, not negative expenditures,” she said. “They plan to keep it on a positive message.”

Political finance experts say the situation illustrates the power that special interests can now wield on even obscure races.

“This has always been the sleeping giant in any sort of clean elections system, that if you restrict candidates’ spending to so much money, they will be at risk of being outspent by an organized interest,” said Michael Franz, associate professor of government at Bowdoin College. “Policy makers think that the likelihood of this happening is very small, so the system will survive. But when you see something like this happen, it points out the potential weakness.”

Maine clean election candidates used to be able to receive matching funds if PACs or privately financed opponents spent large quantities against them, but those portions of Maine law were effectively struck down by a sharply divided 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision. This past session, the Legislature considered but ultimately did not act on proposals to create a matching fund system that would comply with the court’s decision.

“This is exactly the type of races we were thinking of when we were advocating for a replacement of matching funds,” said Andrew Bossie, executive director of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections.

Anyone spending this type of money on these races right now knows that these publicly financed candidates don’t have additional funds to respond.”

Staff Writer Colin Woodard can be contacted at 791-6317 or at: cwoodard@mainetoday.com

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