Study: ‘Dark money,’ ‘gray money’ pour into Maine

Good morning from Augusta, where pristine early summer weekends have the power to shut down developments in Maine politics — however briefly.

With the primary behind and the heart of summer still ahead, candidates across Maine are forming callouses on their knuckles and cracks in their voices as the knock-and-talk at households throughout Maine. A local candidate stopped by my place on Saturday (yes, I’m voting for you but shouldn’t you be on a boat or hiking a seaside trail?).

Fundraising is also experiencing a crescendo — or at least attempts at fundraising are. With the Federal Elections Commission’s quarterly fundraising deadline on Friday, my email inbox is full of donation requests. (No, I’m not donating to your campaign. Shouldn’t you be on a boat or hiking a seaside trail? Here’s your soundtrack. Don’t make me remind you.)

One interesting development over the weekend was the release of new political polling data by the folks over at the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. Yesterday we learned from their poll that Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump in Maine, though the race is tight in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District and voters aren’t thrilled with their major-party choices.

The Maine results mirrored two national polls which appeared to show Clinton pulling ahead of Trump, fueling more speculation that maybe Trump’s appeal is finally fading. Don’t count on it. Polls are useful only after a list of caveats is considered and whenever I see across-the-nation presidential polls my inclination is to provide some reminders, after burying my face in my hands and shaking my head:

  • A single poll is but a snapshot in time — and almost never a gauge of current events, such as England’s vote last week to leave the European Union. “The trend is your friend” is just about the best advice there is when reading polling data. It means you should look at numerous polls taken over a period of time if you want to discern anything valuable.
  • National polls in presidential races don’t mean a lot. While they may give some indication about how the popular vote might turn out, they don’t take into account the Electoral College, which of course how the United States elects its presidents.
  • The more local the poll and the smaller the survey, the more unreliable the data can be.

But as a follower of politics — which as a Daily Brief reader you are, and thank you — you probably already knew all that.

The PPH is out with more of its polling data this morning, focusing on immigrants. It shows that 32 percent of Mainers — and more than 50 percent of Republicans — see immigrants as “a burden on our state.”

What’s the value in that? Well, it affirms what we already knew: Immigration policy is the subject of a long-simmering debate that will weigh crushingly on this year’s elections. — Christopher Cousins

Dark money in politics increasing

The New York Times on Sunday unveiled a new study on dark money in political campaigns by the Brennan Center in which Maine plays a central part.

The study showed that secret spending in political campaigns — known as dark money because its origins are concealed — jumped from about 24 percent of all expenditures in 2006 to 71 percent of expenditures in 2014. The study also found a new “gray money” phenomenon in which organizations that are required to disclose donors route their money through a web of political action committees to conceal the money’s origins.

Read the New York Times’ report on the study by clicking here. Right up top, you’ll read how social welfare nonprofits and trade associations have tripled their spending in this year’s election compared with this time period in 2012.

What about Maine? There’s not a lot of state-specific data in the study. Maine was one of six states whose data were studied in order to extrapolate national estimates and trends. The other states in the study were Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado and Massachusetts. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hit

  • Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin announced today that he will hold a congressional town hall meeting Tuesday at Easter Maine Community College’s Maine Hall in Bangor, beginning at 6 p.m. The meeting, called “Operation Community SAFER (Supporting Area Families to Enable Recovery),” will double as a prescription drug take-back event run by the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department.
  • Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, who finalized the wording of five 2016 referendum questions last week, will randomly select their order on the November ballot this morning. Now you know.

Reading list

My budding superstar

I was preparing my boys for day care today and no matter what I said, they kept chanting this new song made up by my 5-year-old:

Oh we will hum, hummmm

And we’ll eat plums, plummmms

Because we’re dumb, dummmmb

Over and over again they recited it in deep, mesmerizing voices. All I could think of was a tribe deep in a rain forest, locked in ceremony around a smoldering fire. Honestly, it wasn’t the first time I’ve envisioned my kids in a jungle (though usually it’s because of their monkey tendencies).

In the car, my older kid asks my younger kid: “Lucas, are you going to grow up and record that song and be famous?”

“No. I’m going to do that with my bum stink song.”

He’s got the instincts of a pop icon already. — Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.