July 3, 2012

Demeritt and Cuzzi
Senate candidates can't control funding – or can they?

QUESTION: “Is there any way to limit the influence of ‘outside money’ in Maine’s U.S. Senate race?”

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CONTACT THE AUTHORS

DAN DEMERITT can be contacted at dan@win207.com. Follow him on twitter.com @demerittdan.

MICHAEL CUZZI can be contacted at mjcuzzi@gmail.com. Follow him on twitter.com @CuzziMJ

Michael Cuzzi is a former campaign aide to President Obama and other Democratic candidates. He manages the Portland office for VOX Global, a strategic communications and public affairs firm located in Portland. He can be contacted at mjcuzzi@gmail.com. Follow him on twitter.com @CuzziMJ.

DAN DEMERRITT

Mike Cuzzi puts it simply and well. To his argument I would add that the desired returns on out-of-state investments in Maine campaigns are highly partisan or narrowly focused. The 2010 election cycle gives us a notable case to analyze and, for Angus King, an example to follow.

In late October of 2010 the Republican State Leadership Council spent $400,000 trying to influence the outcome of five Maine Senate races. The independent expenditures from the RSLC were clumsy.

One ad referred to then-Augusta Mayor and Republican Senate candidate Roger Katz (rhymes with gates) as “Roger Cats.”  

Other ads were just wrong.

In the last week of the campaign, the RSLC blanketed Senate District 28 in Hancock County with inaccurate ads suggesting the Democrat candidate in the race, Blue Hill Selectman Jim Schatz, voted against funding for local fireworks while approving a taxpayer contribution to a political organization.

For Republican Brian Langley, the eventual winner, the ads presented a leadership moment.

Langley said the ads from Washington were extremely disruptive to what had been an honorable and issue-based campaign. In response he urged WLBZ in Bangor to pull the RSLC’s ad from the air. He also changed his own advertising over the final weekend of the campaign to condemn the outside attacks against his opponent.

Langley went on to win by a large margin and the Maine Ethics Commission assessed a $26,000 fine, the largest in its history, against the RSLC for failing to file timely expenditure reports.

Schatz contends Langley could have done more to address the actual content of the ads and that a green independent was ultimately the critical factor in his defeat. Nevertheless, Schatz felt strongly enough about the expenditures to file a defamation suit against the RSLC. The suit was recently dismissed.

The Republican State Leadership Council’s efforts in Maine were part of a $30 million nationwide effort in 2010 to elect Republicans to statewide offices and gain control of legislative chambers that would play a critical role in congressional redistricting.

During Maine’s 2011 redistricting debate, Republicans were considering a partisan realignment plan that would have moved 8,000 GOP voters into the second district. Eventually a bipartisan compromise earned near unanimous support in the Legislature.

King has proposed that the candidates in Maine’s U.S. Senate race agree as a group to distance themselves from third party expenditures. When asked if he would go it alone, King responded, “My inclination is to do so but on the other hand I don’t like to go into a fight with one hand tied behind my back.”

If King is committed to being the change agent he talks about on the campaign trail he should follow his instincts and Langley’s lead on third-party expenditures. Standing, perhaps alone, against the partisan and narrow interests of independent expenditures would be a meaningful start to taking on the impediments to greater-good governing in America. 

Dan Demeritt is a Republican political consultant and public relations specialist. He is a former communications director for Gov. LePage. He can be contacted at dan@win207.com. Follow him on twitter.com @demerittdan.
 

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