Even though same-sex marriage won in Maine, that doesn’t mean you can jump into bed with just anybody.

Democratic state Rep. John Martin of Eagle Lake found that out when he was caught in the company of – no, not a scantily clad Zumba instructor from Kennebunk – but fully clothed accountants and lawyers employed by the Irving family of Canada. In the Nov. 6 election, Martin was bounced from the state House seat he’s held since shortly after the Civil War by a Republican so unknown I can’t even remember his name.

Martin claimed he was the victim of excessive campaign spending by nefarious outside groups. “So much money was spent,” he told the Bangor Daily News. “If you throw enough mud around, some of it’s going to stick.”

In reality, the GOP political action committees that took some shots at Martin didn’t actually believe they could knock him off. Most of the cash they invested in his area was aimed at Martin’s close ally, Democratic state Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash (the town, not the brewery). The anti-Martin stuff was almost an afterthought, with the PACs spending less than $15,000 on his race.

Martin lost in a year when Democrats were winning nearly everything, probably because his constituents, most of them registered Dems, had grown tired of his questionable business dealings, particularly those involving Irving-owned companies. An unusually favorable bankruptcy settlement involving a convenience store Martin owned that was deep in debt to Irving was probably the deciding factor, particularly when paired with the veteran legislator’s all-out efforts in the last legislative session to revise state mining laws to the benefit of another (allegedly unrelated) Irving company.

But why blame Martin’s own missteps, when campaign spending by shadowy entities controlled by super-villains intent on world domination is this post-election season’s most popular whipping boy. “It erodes the democratic process and drowns out the voices of individual voters,” claimed an op-ed by a couple of liberal activists in the Portland Press Herald. “We were bombarded by radio and TV ads and fliers,” Republican state Sen. Lois Snowe-Mello of Poland told the Maine Sunday Telegram, explaining her loss. “Did you know Snowe-Mello did this? Did you know she did that?”

Right-wingers and left-wingers alike are pushing for all sorts of ill-considered reforms without regard for unintended consequences (restrictions on their own free speech) or even whether all that money is really a problem.

Consider this: If an entrepreneur announced plans to spend heavily purchasing stuff from Maine companies, both Democrats and Republicans would rejoice at this boost to the local economy. Which is exactly what the U.S. Senate race did. The six candidates and assorted outsiders dumped $11 million into the media, print shops, restaurants, caterers, hotels, gasoline stations and dozens of other small and medium-sized businesses. The sudden infusion of wealth did no lasting harm to the environment and provided several short-term jobs. Likewise the $3.5 million spent on legislative elections and a similar amount that ran through the state’s cash registers from congressional campaigns.

Ask the companies that benefited from that windfall whether they think there should be limits on the amount politicians can spend with them. Ask the wholesalers who supply those companies, too. And the workers who get paychecks from them.

The critics are unmoved. They claim the harm done by negative ads paid for by out-of-staters with unclear motives outweighs any temporary economic boost. Just look, they cry, at how it changed the nature of the Senate race.

Except it didn’t.

Poor Angus King, the independent frontrunner, had to endure months of attacks on his character, both warranted and not. But millions of bucks later, King emerged the winner with just about the same percentage of the vote he pulled in the first poll taken after the June primary.

That’s right, all that money changed almost no one’s mind.

The same was true in the congressional races, in the fight for marriage equality and in the vast majority of legislative contests. While much was made of the $450,000 in outside spending in Senate District 32 in Bangor, the Election Day result was essentially the same as what both parties’ early internal polls showed. A similar pattern emerged in most other hotly contested districts.

There are sensible changes that could be made to campaign finance laws to promote full disclosure of donors to nonprofits, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, or to third-party contributors, such as the National Organization for Marriage or labor unions. But efforts to restrict spending by corporations, rich people, PACs or any other entity you don’t happen to like amount to little more than losers venting their frustrations.

Because no statute or constitutional amendment was going to save John Martin from himself.

Contribute your thoughts by emailing me at [email protected]


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