Opponents of Maine’s new vaccine law have raised more than five times as much money as the law’s supporters, and will blitz the airwaves and the internet to try to persuade voters to overturn the law at the ballot box on March 3.

Yes on 1 Maine to Reject Big Pharma, a political action committee that backs the Question 1 proposal to overturn the law, reported $180,877 in donations in the fourth quarter of 2019. Added to its previous fundraising efforts, which began last summer, the Yes on 1 campaign has raised $315,752 in contributions and loans.

That fundraising dwarfs the $58,097 raised by Maine Families for Vaccines, which supports the new law.

The ballot measure asks voters “Do you want to reject the new law that removes religious and philosophical exemptions to requiring immunization against certain communicable diseases for students to attend schools and colleges and for employees of nursery schools and health care facilities?”

A “yes” vote jettisons the law, while a “no” vote upholds it.

“Our campaign is powered and funded by Maine people who refuse to hand over our state or the right to make our own medical decisions to Big Pharma,” Cara Sacks, Yes on 1 campaign manager, said in a statement. “The vast majority of our donors and donations are from everyday Mainers rather than the typical corporate and out-of-state interests that fund the majority of Maine political campaigns.”


Maine Families for Vaccines had received $58,097 through the fourth quarter of last year in its campaign to defeat Question 1. The PAC formed in September and did no prior fundraising.

“We are pleased by the tremendous grassroots support we’ve received from Mainers who oppose Question 1,” the campaign’s co-chair, Dr. Laura Blaisdell, said in a written statement. “With more than 270 individual donations from Maine citizens and the support of our growing coalition, we are confident voters will reject Question 1 and protect Maine’s children from dangerous diseases.”

The PACs filed reports of their donations and spending with the Maine Ethics Commission on Wednesday Because the group opposing the law changed its name, from Mainers for Health and Parental Rights to Yes on 1 Maine to Reject Big Pharma, organizers opposing the law filed two campaign reports.

In its last session, the Legislature narrowly passed the new law that – starting in 2021 – would eliminate all non-medical reasons to opt out of school-required vaccines. The vote was controversial, and passed the Maine Senate by a single vote. The public hearing for the bill in the spring drew thousands to the State House. In New Jersey, a similar bill that would have removed religious exemptions narrowly failed, but vaccine proponents have vowed to bring the bill back before the state legislature this year.

Many opposing Maine’s new law have attempted to paint vaccines as dangerous and ineffective, or link the shots to autism, but vaccines are overwhelmingly safe and are one of the most valuable advances in medicine to improve public health. Links to autism have been debunked, and a 1998 study that claimed a link has been retracted.

Millions of Americans once contracted infectious diseases such as measles and chickenpox, but vaccines have largely eliminated those diseases except in pockets where people have chosen not to be immunized.


When fewer people are vaccinated, preventable diseases have returned, such as measles outbreaks in New York City, California and Minnesota in recent years. Maine has the highest rate of pertussis – also known as whooping cough – in the country, and researchers have linked its return, in part, to Maine’s low school immunization rates. Maine had 446 pertussis cases in 2018, and 361 through November, 2019.

Also, Maine was one of the last states to add the middle school booster shot for pertussis, doing so in 2017-18.

The top donor to the Yes on 1 campaign in the fourth quarter of 2019, Michigan for Vaccine Choice, gave $3,000, and the top individual donors, at $2,000 each, were Dr. Christiane Northrup of Yarmouth and Jennifer Cote of South Portland. There were a number of individuals who gave $1,000.

The donor list also features many chiropractors, although the Maine Chiropractic Association is neutral on the ballot issue.

Top donors to Maine Families for Vaccines include the Maine Hospital Association with $25,000; the Maine Academy of Family Physicians, $4,999; the Maine Medical Association, $3,712; and the Maine Hospital Association, $1,346.

Caitlin Gilmet, the Maine Families for Vaccines campaign manager, said the fundraising and campaigning is just starting to ramp up. Television and online advertising are in the works, and Gilmet said a big emphasis will be to avoid confusion at the ballot box by informing voters that a “no” vote supports vaccination.

“There is tremendous support for a ‘no’ vote,” Gilmet said. “We can’t afford to lose on this issue, to have these dangerous ideas chip away at our public health.”

Sacks, the campaign manager for opponents, said “we are communicating with voters at their door, on the phones, in their mailboxes and on the airwaves.”

“We will rely on our people-powered grassroots campaign to continue educating Mainers on why they should vote yes to reject Big Pharma in March,” Sacks said.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

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