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Observers Predict Flood of Third Party Spending in Maine's Upcoming Legislative Races
10/07/2013   Reported By: Mal Leary

In the last two elections, Maine saw a significant increase in spending by outside political groups in campaigns for Congress and governor. Observers say in the next year you can expect a huge increase in spending on legislative races as well. Mal Leary reports.

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Political action committees have long been a staple of political campaigns. But in recent years, so-called "Super PACS" have been created under federal law that can raise unlimited amounts of cash.

Colby College Government Professor Tony Corrado has researched campaign spending across the country. He says Super PACS are spending heavily in legislative races this fall, and Maine will certainly be a target next year.

"You have gone from a much more of a grassroots campaigning style to a greater emphasis, particularly on those seats in the legislature that are up for grabs, to the more modern techniques of campaigning," Corrado says. "You are seeing a lot more mail, more radio advertising and more television advertising, even on the part of legislative candidates. And I think that those are just harbingers of what we are going to see."

Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine, says the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case opened up the floodgates, by placing new restrictions on Congress and state legislatures on what they can do to limit campaign spending.

He says if Mainers thought they saw an explosion of campaign ads in the last election, it will pale in comparison to the spending expected next year.

"Maine is an incredibly cheap date when it comes to media buys," Brewer says, "and I think we have already started to see this kind of outside money come in over the last two cycles. And that's just going to increase, and I think it is going to be an exponential increase."

Bowdoin College Government Professor Mike Franz agrees that Maine will likely see a barrage of advertising and mailings from national PACS from across the political spectrum. "And I think that's the case because a lot of the battle ground in policymaking these days is shifting to state level politics."

Franz says while there has been a lot of talk about how excessive political ads are turning off the voters and lowering turnout, studies don't support that finding.

"There is a lot of handwringing about its utility, but there isn't a ton of evidence to suggest that it turns people off," Franz says. "What probably happens is people tune it out."

And UMaine's Mark Brewer says campaigns, in general, use expensive TV ads for the simple reason that they work.

"Candidates and outside groups and parties do this stuff because they think that it helps them squeeze the most support out, or dampen down the support of their opponents," he says. "So as long as they think it can be effective, and the research shows that it is, even if it is diminishing marginal returns they are still going to do it if the money is there - and we know the money is there."

Andrew Bossie, executive director of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, says he's outraged that Super PACS - often funded by super-rich individuals - can influence Maine elections. He says the public financing of state elections has been undercut in recent years, and his group is in the midst of a referendum effort aimed at restoring funding to Maine's Clean Elections program. But, he says the big fix has to be done at the federal level.

"It also means fighting on the federal level for either a change in the Supreme Court's opinion, or a constitutional amendment that allows us to regulate money in elections," Bossie says. "Those things are difficult to come by, but they are necessary if we want to continue to call ourselves a democracy."

But Bossie concedes neither will happen before the next elections, and he worries that huge campaign expenditures will undercut what is left of the state's Clean Elections law.


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