Almost $10 million has flowed into efforts to influence Maine’s November referendum results, much of it from out-of-state organizations and individuals, according to quarterly finance reports filed with the state ethics commission.

Contributions to all ballot questions total $9.5 million overall, with $5.1 million coming in during the last three-month period.

Contributions supporting a measure that would require background checks on private gun sales and transfers have topped $3.7 million alone. Backers of two other ballot initiatives – marijuana legalization and a tax on high earners to fund education – have taken in more than $3 million.

The campaign pushing for marijuana legalization in Maine has raised $1.3 million this year, more than 26 times as much as the group opposing Question 1.

Among the financial backers is Rick Steves, a well-known travel writer and television host who donated $50,000 to support the legalization campaign. A prominent supporter of legalization in the U.S., Steves previously promised to match “dollar-for-dollar” donations up to $50,000. He will be in Maine next week to support marijuana legalization.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the group backing Question 1, reported raising $904,145 in cash contributions in the reporting period that ended Wednesday, primarily from a Washington, D.C.-based political action committee that advocates for marijuana reform. The campaign is sharply outspending Mainers Protecting Our Youth and Communities, a PAC formed to oppose legalization. The group raised $50,000 in the latest period, according to a campaign finance report filed Wednesday, bringing the total amount raised since its formation to $50,861. The Alliance for Healthy Marijuana Policy of Alexandria, Virginia, donated $50,000 to the campaign in September.


The major political parties also were active in the past quarter, according to the finance reports filed with the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices. The Maine Democratic State Committee outraised the Maine Republican Party by 2-to-1, with the Democratic committee bringing in $828,269 compared with the Republicans’ $409,779. Overall, the Democrats have raised $1.3 million and spent $1 million, while the Republicans have raised $653,991 and spent $564,530.


Question 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot asks voters if they want to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and over. If approved, adults would be able to possess up to 2.5 ounces, grow their own plants and buy marijuana from licensed retail stores. The initiative also would allow marijuana social clubs and place a 10 percent sales tax on marijuana. Marijuana use would be prohibited in public, with violations punishable by a $100 fine.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol reported $825,000 in donations from New Approach PAC, the Washington, D.C.-based marijuana reform organization. New Approach PAC is headed by Graham Boyd, an attorney and consultant who helped found the ACLU’s Drug Law Reform Project.

The Marijuana Policy Project, the largest organization in the United States focused solely on marijuana policy reform, made $36,000 in in-kind contributions, primarily for polling and staff time.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol reported spending more than $590,000 on television ads. The campaign this week aired its first ad, which features former Rep. Mark Dion, who is also a former Cumberland County sheriff.


Mainers Protecting Our Youth and Communities reported spending about $2,600 on a television ad titled “Not on My Maine Street,” which will be begin airing next week. A separate social media video ad valued at $10,000 was donated to be adapted for the Maine campaign by No on Prop 205, a group opposing Arizona’s marijuana legalization initiative.


Question 2 asks voters if they want to add a 3 percent tax on individuals with Maine taxable income above $200,000 to fund education. If approved, it would make Maine’s top tax rate the second-highest in the nation.

Two groups supporting the measure took in nearly $1 million this period, almost all of it from out-of-state backers. The National Education Association gave $750,000 to Citizens Who Support Maine’s Public Schools, led by a Maine Education Association officer. The Maine People’s Alliance PAC raised a total of $202,237 to support passage of three different ballot questions.

No on Question 2, led by business leaders and the head of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, raised $117,575 during the quarter.

Pro-Question 2 groups have raised a total of about $1.8 million overall. Among the major expenditures have been advertising costs, from production costs to placement on television stations.


Backers say the money would help fund a decade-old voter mandate to have the state pay for 55 percent of the cost of K-12 education. Opponents say it’s too much of a tax burden and could drive individuals or businesses out of the state.


Question 3 asks voters if they want to require background checks for the sale or transfer of firearms between individuals.

The Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership Fund raised $1.4 million in the past quarter and has taken in $3.7 million overall, dwarfing the amount raised by opponents, including the National Rifle Association, which has been running television ads opposing the measure. Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership has been running ads featuring hunters and former U.S. Attorney Paula Silsby, who support the initiative.

That group got a $989,000 donation from New York-based Everytown for Gun Safety, an independent expenditure committee formed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and a $350,000 donation from the Washington D.C.-based Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC, founded by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly.

The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action raised $379,964 this quarter and has taken in $420,158 overall. It has spent all of its funds.


Other opposition groups, all based in Maine, have raised total amounts of less than $30,000 each. They include UBC Bad for ME ($26,081 this quarter); Gun Owners of Maine, Inc. ($7,719); Maine Gun Rights ($6,000); Friends of Maine Sportsmen ($5,613); and Sportsman’s Alliance of ME PAC ($4,021).

Question 3 would mandate background checks for all private sales, essentially applying the same standard now required of licensed gun shops and dealers. It also would require background checks before someone transfers or loans a gun out. The initiative contains exceptions for transactions between family members, to law enforcement or for some “temporary transfers” for hunting (but only when the gun owner is present) or when the transfer “is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.”

Sellers and buyers would have to go to a licensed firearms dealer to have the buyer’s name run through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Dealers can charge a “reasonable fee” to enter the data into the federal system.


Question 4 asks voters if they want to raise the minimum wage of $7.50 to $9 in 2017, followed by annual $1 increases up to $12 in 2020, with annual cost-of-living adjustments afterward. It also would raise the wage for tipped service workers to the minimum wage.

Supporters have vastly outraised opponents on this issue.


Two of the biggest backers are Mainers for Fair Wages PAC, which raised $376,729 in the past quarter, and the Maine People’s Alliance, which raised $202,237 to support passage of three different ballot questions. Overall, the two groups have raised $673,925 and $337,624, respectively, or more than $1 million.

Opponents have raised less than $100,000: Restaurateurs for a Strong Maine Economy raised $31,100 in the quarter and has taken in $71,480 overall, and Maine People for Maine Jobs has raised $27,150 overall.

Supporters of Question 4 have argued that raising Maine’s minimum wage would enable more workers to meet their financial obligations without help from taxpayer-funded government programs. They also say it would boost consumer spending in the state and help grow the economy.

Opponents, including the Maine Heritage Policy Center and representatives of the state’s restaurant and hospitality industries, say it would devastate many small businesses, particularly those in northern and rural Maine. They also say many entry-level jobs would be eliminated, and prices on consumer goods would increase.


Question 5 asks voters if they want ranked-choice voting for U.S. Senate, Congress, governor, state senators and state representatives.


The switch would make Maine the first state to adopt the system, which allows voters to rank candidates by preference instead of choosing a single candidate for each race come Election Day. The system is used now for Portland’s mayoral and City Council races and has been adopted by other cities in the U.S..

Almost $1 million has been raised by multiple groups in support of Question 5, and there are no official ballot question committees that oppose it.

Supporters of Question 5 and the amount they raised this quarter are: Maine People’s Alliance, $202,237 ($337,624 overall); Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, $97,672 ($269,881 overall); The Chamberlain Project, $85,000 ($210,000 overall); and Fair Vote, $80,372 ($139,036 overall.)

Despite overwhelming financial support for Question 5, a Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram poll in late September indicated that many voters were still undecided. The poll found that 48 percent of likely voters supported it, 29 percent were opposed and 23 percent were undecided.


Question 6 asks voters if they support a $100 million bond for infrastructure projects. No PACS have filed reports to support or oppose this question.

Staff Writer Gillian Graham contributed to this report.

CLARIFICATION: This story was updated at 3:51 p.m. on Oct. 7, 2016 to clarify that the $202,237 raised by the Maine People’s Alliance Ballot Question Committee represents the total amount the committee contributed to support passage of three different ballot questions.


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