A national political organization dedicated to electing Democratic women contributed $300,000 to support Attorney General Janet Mills’ gubernatorial bid and oppose challenger Adam Cote.

Democratic candidates for governor Adam Cote and Janet Mills. Cote called EMILY’S List’s $300,000 contribution to support Mills “outrageous,” while Mills’ campaign noted that EMILY’S List has worked nationally to get “pro-choice Democratic women elected.”

The $300,000 donation from EMILY’s List is the first major infusion of “outside money” in Maine’s Democratic primary race and comes just days before the June 12 primary. The South Portland-based political action committee that received the donation, Maine Women Together, disclosed spending $192,500 on Tuesday for a web-based campaign to oppose Cote and $7,500 to support Mills.

The infusion of outside money feeds speculation that Cote – an attorney and veteran from Sanford – may be rising to challenge Mills, a Farmington resident long regarded as the frontrunner in the crowded Democratic field.

Yet it is unclear how the money from EMILY’s List – a major national organization – and a slew of potential negative ads against Cote – will affect Democratic voters as they rank the seven Democratic contenders using ranked-choice voting for the first time.

There are no limits on how much outside groups can raise or spend on an election in Maine, but those organizations are prohibited by law from coordinating with campaigns when making independent expenditures.

Cote’s campaign hit back on Wednesday, portraying the spending as an “out-of-state bailout of Mills campaign.”


“This is outrageous and Maine people shouldn’t stand for it,” Cote said in a statement. “To have an outside group, no matter who it is, drop $200,000 into a Maine gubernatorial race to attack one candidate, six days before an election, is unprecedented and exactly what people hate about politics.”

Mills’ campaign spokesman Michael Ambler said the campaign “can’t control what EMILY’s List chooses to do” but said the organization has pushed hard nationally to get “pro-choice Democratic women elected.” Both Mills and Cote said they strongly support a woman’s right to obtain an abortion.

Ambler also dismissed Cote’s suggestion of the campaign needing a “bailout.”

“We are confident Janet’s support among Maine Democrats will put us in the lead on Election Day,” Ambler said.

Mills and Cote have been trading political jabs with increasing frequency, including during their final debate on Tuesday when the two had a brief but pointed exchange over guns and the National Rifle Association.

In ads, Cote cited Mills’ previous “A” ratings from the NRA (she now has an “F” along with Cote and the other seven Democrats) and her office’s lengthy court battles over water issues with Maine’s Indian tribes. Mills has hit back in ads pointing out that Cote was registered as a Republican for six years, although Cote maintains he only switched his party affiliation to vote against George W. Bush and for Sen. John McCain in the 2000 primary.


Until a few weeks ago, the crowded Democratic primary had been a largely cordial race due, in large part, to concerns about how “going negative” could affect a campaign’s standing with voters during Maine’s first-ever use of ranked-choice voting.

On the Republican side, a political action committee called Moose Tracks has spent $51,430 on radio ads in support of former Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew.

Maine Women Together – a pro-Mills group created by former state lawmaker Lynn Bromley of South Portland and Bonita Usher of Buxton – indicated the $200,000 would pay for video and web ads as well as social media promotion by H Street Strategy, a Washington, D.C.-based political consulting firm.

The other Democrats in the seven-person primary are former Biddeford mayor Dion Donna, Portland Sen. Mark Dion, former House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick, former Portland Rep. Diane Russell and advocate Betsy Sweet of Hallowell.

So-called independent expenditures are less common in primaries but have become commonplace in Maine elections. During the 2014 gubernatorial elections, for instance, groups operating independently of the campaigns spent millions of dollars either for or against Republican Gov. Paul LePage and his Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud.

The Moose Tracks PAC is the only independent expenditure reported so far in the four-person Republican primary, although that could change as June 12 gets closer.

The principal officer of Moose Tracks is Paul Coulombe, a Southport resident and liquor entrepreneur who is a close ally of LePage. The radio ads aired last week by Moose Tracks criticize Gorham businessman Shawn Moody while touting Mayhew. The other two Republican candidates in the race are state Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls and House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette of Newport.


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