Independent Expenditures through 9.12.14

(Use the slider bars to scroll up, down and left to right. Hovering over the green bars will show the amount spent by a particular political action committee. The spending is divided between two major categories, support and oppose.)

Here we go. Again.

A week ago we reported that the 2014 election is on pace to eclipse the $4 million spent in 2010 by groups who can spend unlimited amounts of money on media ads, mailers and canvass operations to influence voters. That conclusion was based on the $2.2 million in so-called independent expenditures that was reported Sept. 5 to the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices.

It looks like we’re going to get there a lot faster than anticipated.

The above graphic shows that groups have spent $3.6 million on the governor’s race alone. Another $150,000 has been spent on more than a dozen legislative races that could determine which party controls the State House after Election Day.

The gubernatorial contest is obviously driving the bulk of the spending, with most of the money coming from the Republican Governors Association, which has spent over $1.8 million either supporting Republican Gov. Paul LePage or opposing Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud. The RGA has already spent more in 2014 than it did in 2010, when LePage won the Blaine House. Nearly all of the spending by the RGA is on television ads (How the money was spent is not captured in the data, but I’ll try adding that later. This is my first stab at using the Tableau software.)

While the RGA is dominating the spending, progressive groups are beginning to gain ground. Groups have spent more than $957,000 on ads and operations opposing Michaud compared to over $730,000 opposing LePage. The RGA comprises over 84 percent of the opposition ads against Michaud and 48 percent of the opposition spending by all groups. The opposition spending against LePage is divided among a number of progressive PACs, including Maine Forward (over $318,000) and the Maine League of Conservation Voters ($253,000).

A newcomer has also just arrived: NextGen Climate, the environmental activist organization funded by San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer, logged nearly $200,000 in independent expenditures on Thursday. As we reported a couple of weeks ago, Steyer’s group is planning a full scale campaign in Maine, one of seven states where NextGen intends to spend at least $50 million to unseat Republican candidates deemed enemies of the environment and climate science.

NextGen has divided its spending between opposing LePage and supporting Michaud. How? Apparently canvas operations, voter contact through door-to-door and phone banking. The exact activity isn’t detailed on the report, but the group paid GRSC Consulting for its services. The Minnesota company offers an array of services to progressive organizations, including canvassing consulting.

Also, independent Eliot Cutler has been largely left alone by groups either supporting or opposing his candidacy. However, the latest reports show one single opposition expenditure of $276 by the Committee to Rebuild Maine’s Middle Class, an organization engaging in canvassing and mail operations.

To provide some context: The $3.6 million spent on the gubernatorial race so far is more 76 percent of the two-year budget for the Ethics Commission, the agency charged with monitoring this activity and all other campaign spending in state races.

Again, spending by candidates’ campaign committees differs from money spent by outside groups, because those groups can solicit unlimited donations from corporations, nonprofits or unions. Nonprofit organizations that donate to outside groups do not have to disclose their donors, which has made it virtually impossible to tell who is pouring money into the campaigns.