Wednesday, March 12, 2014
By Colin Woodard firstname.lastname@example.org
The first money bomb of Maine's legislative campaign has landed on the Biddeford-Saco area, leaving supporters of the state's Clean Election program shuddering.
Ocean Properties Inc., the Portsmouth, N.H.-based developer behind last year's proposal for a racino in Biddeford, transferred $25,000 to a new political action committee on May 31. Over the past few days, the Race for ME PAC has spent $13,334 on fliers and newspaper advertisements supporting three pro-racino candidates in the area's Democratic primaries for state Senate and House.
Most of the expenditures – $9,513 – were made in support of Rep. Donald Pilon, D-Saco, a racino supporter who is running against Rep. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, for the Senate seat to be vacated by Senate Minority Leader Barry Hobbins, who is term-limited.
Valentino was a high-profile proponent of sending any racino plan out for voters' approval. The proposal for Biddeford was defeated 60 percent to 40 percent statewide in November.
All of the expenditures were made on the day Ocean Properties' donation arrived. The PAC bought ads supporting two pro-racino candidates for the House.
Sen. Nancy Sullivan, D-Biddeford, who must leave the Senate because of term limits, is the intended beneficiary of $1,884 in ad spending. She is running for the House District 137 seat against Rep. Alan Casavant, the mayor of Biddeford and a casino opponent.
The PAC also is supporting former Biddeford Mayor Joanne Twomey over Rep. Paulette Beaudoin, D-Biddeford, in District 135. Twoomey supports racinos; Beaudoin does not.
"We're just trying to be involved, and we believe that an expansion of gaming is inevitable in southern Maine in general and that Biddeford in particular is the spot for it," said Peter Connell of Ocean Properties. "It's a longer-term proposition, and we're supporting candidates that were supportive of our project or potentially would be in the future."
Ocean Properties' expenditures are extremely large for a legislative primary. As Clean Election candidates, Valentino and Pilon have only about $8,800 each to spend on their primary campaigns. Twomey and Beaudoin are running with less than $2,000 apiece. Casavant and Sullivan are both privately financed, but as of May 31 had raised only $270 and $1,275, respectively.
"This is a clear case of an outside interest buying elections because they don't like the result," says Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland. "If they can't win in the public eye, they can only win in the Legislature."
The candidates who didn't receive support from the PAC expressed dismay at the size and timing of Ocean Properties' involvement.
"It definitely blindsided me," Casavant said. "I find it disconcerting that so much money from a special interest would come in so late."
"I'm a Clean Election candidate. I have no money to combat these fliers and ads," Valentino said. "They're targeting all the people who voted against them, trying to make sure we never get back" to Augusta.
Pilon, the primary beneficiary of the ad buys, said Tuesday that he didn't know about the expenditures until asked about them by a reporter. He said he has supported the racino project not because of gaming's attributes, but because it would include a facility that could host trade shows, which York County lacks.
"It would certainly help southern Maine to have that type of facility available to all the commercial entities in the area," he said. "Those revenue dollars are currently going to Cumberland County when we could have them in the local economy."
Records on file with the state ethics commission show that Pilon, a real estate agent, also has the backing of the Maine Association of Realtors PAC, which has spent $2,700 on his behalf. Pilon also has a leadership PAC, Move Maine Forward, which Dec. 27 received $2,100 from six Ocean Properties executives.
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