The campaigns and outside groups promoting Maine’s gubernatorial candidates set new spending records this election season, bombarding the airwaves and social media sites with political ads.

In the end, the race wasn’t even close. Gov. Janet Mills on Tuesday trounced her challenger, former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, to win 55% of the vote and another four-year term.

But that drubbing cost a pretty penny.

As of election day, Mills and groups supporting her spent $16.6 million, while LePage and outside organizations boosting his campaign spent $11.9 million. Sam Hunkler, an independent on the ballot, spent $3,864 on his campaign.

For every vote cast for Mills, the campaign and its supporters spent $48.14. That’s slightly more than the $44.90 that the LePage campaign and its supporters spent for each vote.

The prize for most economical campaign goes to Hunkler. He chose not to do any fundraising and financed his campaign with his own money, spending just 31 cents per vote.


Those per-vote spending totals could change slightly when the dust settles and all the numbers are in. The last votes were still being counted Wednesday and the campaigns have yet to file their final campaign finance reports.

Total spending in the 2022 race dwarfed the next-highest gubernatorial election, the 2014 race in which LePage bested Democrat Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler.

This year, groups spent $28.5 million trying to coax voters to support their candidate, compared to $19.2 million in 2014. In 2018, when Mills defeated Republican Shawn Moody, the total spent was $18.1 million.

In 2014, the LePage campaign and groups supporting him paid about $20 per vote, while Michaud spent $38 per vote and Cutler $61.

Brian Duff, associate professor of political science at the University of New England, said there are long-term trends that result in more money flowing into political campaigns and outside groups trying to influence elections. The 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. FEC paved the way for anonymous, outside groups to spend unlimited amounts of money influencing elections.

“The Supreme Court unleashed everything,” Duff said. “People can donate unlimited amounts anonymously. It’s created this opportunity, and there’s a number of people with a lot of money to burn who have real incentives to influence elections.”


Duff said another factor at play is that Democrats and Republicans have figured out how to solicit numerous donations from small donors. Those $10 or $2o donations, if garnered from enough people, can add up into real money, Duff said. And he said groups that traditionally contribute to campaigns – such as corporations and unions – also have ramped up donations to political candidates.

As to why the Mills-LePage race attracted so much campaign spending despite the end result being a non-competitive election, Duff said there were some uncertainties about the election that caused big spending.

“We didn’t have a ton of polling in Maine, so it was hard to make a good prediction on how things were going to go. There were two governors with strong opinions in the race, and so each side wants to spend like crazy,” Duff said.

But he said political spending is many times irrational, with such over-saturation that voters tend to tune it out.

“Past a certain point the spending is basically pointless,” Duff said. “But there’s this fear that the other side is spending more, so you should spend more, too.”

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