Groups opposing five of the six referendum questions on Portland’s Nov. 3 ballot have raised nearly 14 times more than proponents and hold a significant fundraising advantage heading into the final stretch of campaigning.

Three political action committees opposed to Questions A through E on the city ballot had raised nearly $643,500 and had more than $67,000 remaining heading into the final week.

People First Portland, a PAC formed by the Southern Maine Democratic Socialists of America to campaign for passage of the ballot questions, had raised $26,480, with $9,905 remaining. Their campaign got a boost from Progressive Portland, a local advocacy group, that spent nearly $20,290 on a voters guide expressing support for the referendums and candidates running for office.

People First Portland responded to the latest round of fundraising by noting that its average donation is $70 and that the opposing campaign is being funded by large donations – some in excess of $10,000 each – from landlords, developers and their associated companies.

“These fundraising totals really show us where the power lies in Portland – and which side our mayor and city councilors are on,” volunteer Jack O’Brien said in a written statement. “While people get priced out of the city, a few large landlords and big developers are making huge profit off working people’s pain.”

David Farmer, treasurer of Building a Better Portland, a PAC formed to oppose three of the ballot measures, said the pandemic has eliminated most in-person campaign events, such as forums, door-knocking and rallies, increasing the importance of online advertising and direct mail. And it’s been difficult to penetrate the noise of fierce national races, including for president and U.S. Senate.


“In most campaigns, you try to reach the most likely voters with information about your campaign,” Farmer said. “But with the enthusiasm and high stakes of the presidential election and U.S. Senate race, we really tried to talk to everyone in the city. We expect voter turnout to be large and we didn’t take any part of the voting population for granted.”

The new fundraising totals, covering activity between Oct. 1 and Oct. 20, were disclosed in reports filed at City Hall on Friday, which also detailed the finances of city council candidates.

Building A Better Portland raised $175,796 during that period, bringing its total to about $443,700. That’s been used to oppose Question C: a sweeping zoning reform package of building, labor and zoning rules being called the Green New Deal for Portland and Question D: a tenant protection ordinance that would include rent control, among other things.

The PAC – funded largely by landlords and developers, including the National Realtors Association – spent $109,000 on direct mail, $84,600 on online ads and $20,400 in Facebook ads in the most recent period. It has $32,612 remaining.

Tom Watson and Co. has donated at least $15,000 since the campaign began. That total does not include donations made through Watson’s limited liability companies. Watson is one the city’s largest landlords and has proposed a new 171-unit apartment building in Bayside. Donations from other large landlords include $24,000 from PVA Limited Partnership, of Lowell, Massachusetts, which owns Princeton on the Back Cove, an apartment complex.

We Can’t Do $22, a PAC opposing Question A, which would increase the minimum wage from $12 to $15 an hour over the coming years plus time and a half during a declared emergency, raised $43,800 in the most recent period. It also lists $15,000 in unpaid debt to a local consultant and a $10,000 loan from the Portland Community Chamber of Commerce. Major contributions this period came from two health care providers: MaineHealth donated $10,000 and Northern Light donated $7,500.


MaineHealth opposes the proposal because of its hazard pay requirement, which is unique in the United States. MaineHealth officials also don’t think wage and labor laws should be enacted on the municipal level, said Katie Fullam Harris, the chief government affairs officer the not-for-profit provider.

A wage of $22.50 an hour, which would be the hazard wage in a declared emergency once the minimum reached $15 an hour in 2024, would add $1.6 million a week, she said. Harris said some hospital workers make less than $15 an hour now, but she could not say how many or provide any examples.

“We think the referendum goes too far,” Fullam Harris said.

Maine is in a state of emergency because of the coronavirus pandemic, which would trigger the hazard pay requirement and bump the minimum wage from $12 an hour to $18 an hour.

As of Oct. 20, We Can’t Do $22 had only $770 left, but it received a $12,500 donation from the Maine State Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 23, allowing the group to spend nearly $6,000 on online ads. It also received a $12,500 donation from the Maine Retail Association.

The Portland Homeowners and Tenants Association is being funded solely by the San Francisco-based Airbnb Corporation to oppose Question E, which would eliminate about half of the city’s short-term rentals by prohibiting unhosted, or nonowner-occupied, rentals and increase the registration fee from $100 for the first unit to $1,000 for each unit.


The full extent of the corporate funding had not been known until now because the city had not been making the group’s  finance reports available to the public until questioned by a reporter this week.

An October quarterly report released on Tuesday, nearly a month after other reports were made public, shows that Airbnb made a $125,000 donation to the PAC, as well as about $9,000 in in-kind contributions. The campaign also lists nearly $153,000 in outstanding debt for consulting, online ads and phone banks. It reported having $33,650 in cash remaining. No individuals have given to the effort.

Meanwhile, Progressive Portland is giving People First Portland and several candidates in local races a boost. It transferred nearly $20,290 of its general treasury to create a voters guide in support of Questions A through E and to urge voters to support April Fournier in the at-large council race, Andrew Zarro in the District 4 race and Kate Sykes in District 5. They also support Ysuf Ysuf, Nyalat Biliew, Aura Russell-Bedder and Anthony Emerson in their respective school board races.

Progressive Portland board member James Craddock said the guide, which also endorsed candidates for president and Congress, was mailed to “as many voters as we could afford,” but he did not offer additional details about the total number or which voters were targeted.

“Progressive Portland does not have the hundreds of thousands of dollars opponents of the referendum questions have, but we wanted to try to do a little to even the scales,” Craddock said.

New fundraising in the three council races also was disclosed.


Justin Costa, a sitting councilor running for the open at-large seat, raised nearly three times as much as his closest competitor, Fournier. Costa raised nearly $15,250 during the most recent period, bringing his total to $32,150. He has invested heavily in online and Facebook ads. Fournier raised $4,525 in the most recent period bringing her total to $10,911. She has invested mostly in Facebook ads.

Two other at-large challengers have raised significantly less. Laura Kelley raised $3,517, bring her total to $7,942, and Ron Gan raised $825, bringing his total to $3,225.

In the District 5 race, Sykes raised $3,160, bringing her total to $6,935. Mark Dion, a former state senator, has raised $4,360, bringing his total to $4,960, and John Coyne, a former school board member and councilors, raised $400, bring his total to $450. A fourth contestant, Kenneth Capron, has not raised any additional money since previously reporting $33 in donations.

In District 4, Zarro raised $2,165, bring his total to $5,007, and Rosemary Mahoney raised $2,088, bringing her total to $3,008.

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