Outside groups pump about $2.2 million into Maine governor’s race

The race for the Blaine House has already attracted about $2.2 million in spending by groups not specifically connected with a campaign, primarily for television ads.

The total is ahead of the five-person contest in 2010, when outside groups had spent about $1.6 million by early September in independent expenditures. We’ve gathered the latest reports into three views below that show you the key aspects of independent spending in the race so far.

In looking at the dynamics of that spending, the term “independent expenditure” is important to define. That’s accomplished by introducing two other words you should know this (and every) campaign season: express advocacy.

Generally, that means telling you outright to “Vote for [candidate].” When a group like the Republican Governors Association or the Democratic Governors Association or the Spacious Skies and Amber Waves of Grain PAC lets you know a specific candidate is running for office or encourages that you vote for him or her, it counts as an unmistakable effort to influence the outcome of an election and the payment to create and broadcast that ad has to be disclosed to the Maine Ethics Commission.

When a PAC tells you that “[candidate] has been a lifelong genius whose work history proves an aptitude for leadership,” it doesn’t necessarily fall into that category and likely doesn’t need to be disclosed. Another thing: those types of ads can’t be coordinated with a candidate’s campaign — something that in the age of the Yo app (“When you get the ‘Yo,’ ad’s a go,” for example) — is increasingly difficult to certify.

Back to what we do know: Nearly all of the express advocacy so far has gone toward promoting or dashing the aspirations of Democrat Mike Michaud or Republican Paul LePage. Just less than $9,000 has been disclosed in that kind of spending to support independent Eliot Cutler while spending on both attack and support ads for either Michaud or LePage are near $1 million. And there’s a nearly equal amount of promotion and demotion going on.

Groups spending independently were required to file reports by a deadline last Friday, Sept. 5, covering their spending from June through last week. The governor’s race was, by far, the driver of the most independent spending leading up to November, though some Maine Senate and House races also prompted some early outside spending (see a full list of the current filings and races in question at the Ethics Commission website).

From here until Election Day, outside groups are required to report their spending to the Maine Ethics Commission within two days of the expenditure. We’ll be keeping tabs.

Darren Fishell

About Darren Fishell

Darren is a Portland-based reporter for the Bangor Daily News writing about the Maine economy and business. He's interested in putting economic data in context and finding the stories behind the numbers.