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Out-of-State PACS Driving up Campaign Spending in Maine
10/12/2012   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Competing out-of-state political action committees are driving campaign spending to new heights in Maine's legislative races, which is on a pace to surpass the $1.5 million mark set two years ago. A national Democratic committee has selected five Maine legislative races from among 60 nationally as must-wins for the party. Democrats and Republicans agree that the battle for political control of the Maine Legislature will intensify in the closing weeks of the campaign season. A.J. Higgins has more.

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Democratic state Sen. John Patrick of Rumford remembers when he first heard about the $400,000 political ad drop by the Republican State Leadership Committee two years ago. Patrick says it marked a sea change in Maine politics.

"I turned around and I looked at the ads that were being placed and I said, 'Oh My God, these ads are going to destroy a lot of people's personal credibility.' And I said to myself, 'If this is what's coming down -- we're in trouble," Patrick says.

And Patrick was right. The spending - and the content - are considered by members of both parties as key factors in the Republican takeover of the Maine Legislature in 2010. Maine Democratic leaders vowed they would never be caught offf guard again, and now the Washington-D.C.-based Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee has emerged as a major player in Maine's legislative races.

The group has identified five state legislative seats as must-win. Thus far, the group has moved about a half-million dollars into various Maine political action committees created to elect Democrats or to defeat Republicans. And a good part of the committee's donor base is represented by labor organizations.

Patrick said that shouldn't be a big surprise, given how aggressively GOP Gov. Paul LePage and majority Republicans went after organized labor. But he says other workign people have also taken notice.

"The unions were targeted, they were devastated," Patrick says. "When you steal people's pensions that are union members, non-union members throughout the state of Maine - working men and women - have to say to themselves as well: 'Are they coming for what I have coming to me as well?'"

Although the DLCC is not raising money for specific races, it has made known which Republicans it wants out: Sen. Nichi Farnham, of Bangor; Sen. Garrett Mason, of Lisbon Falls; Sen. Thomas Martin, of Benton; Rep. Aaron Libby, of Waterboro and Rep. Heather Sirocki, of Scarborough.

Dan Roth works for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. "I think that there are serious issues that need to be worked on in Maine, and I think that working families in Maine need people in the Legislature who are going to be working on issues that they need help on," Roth says.

Every $100,000 poured into campaigns through committees like the DLCC ratchets up the overall costs in Maine legislative races.

"It's looking like we're in the midst of a bonafide arms race, in terms of campaigning on these legislative races," says Dan Demerritt, a Republican political consultant who formerly served as communications director for Gov. Paul LePage. He concedes that the GOP money drop in 2010 was effective in establishing a new GOP Senate majority -- but he also says big money in local Maine legislative races can backfire.

"Candidates on both sides, whether they're on the receiving end of an attack or being helped by one of these outside groups, often times don't want the help because it kind of distorts the race and it makes them answer for the kind of nasty appeals that they don't want to be associated with," Demeritt says.

At Maine Republican State headquarters, communications director David Sorensen says Democrats can't complain about the impact of money spent on campaigns when they are playing the very same game.

"This is more hypocrisy from a party that spent a lot of time complaining about Citizens United and the influence of big money in politics, and they run around raising special interest money and spending record amounts of money in state races," Sorensen says.

The recent contributions by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee have been countered by the Virginia-based Republican State Leadership Committee, which, according to the state campaign funding reports, raised $320,000 in the most recent reporting cycle to elect Republicans.



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