Democrats spar over ‘dark money’ ads in contest to challenge Poliquin

Good morning from Augusta. The three Democratic candidates vying to face off against Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District agreed on most issues Wednesday night during a debate that was televised statewide.

One exception was their thoughts on how they are treating each other in campaign advertising. Maine House Assistant Majority Leader Jared Golden of Lewiston and conservationist Lucas St. Clair of Hampden clashed over advertising in the race, much of it coming from a third-party group on behalf of St. Clair.

The Maine Outdoor Alliance has bought television advertising supporting him and according to Golden, has sent three mailers to Democrats in the district during the past couple of weeks. St. Clair said again that he didn’t know the support for his campaign was coming, even though the Maine Outdoor Alliance is run by the best man at his wedding.

“I learned about the Maine Outdoor Alliance at the same time everyone else did, when the Bangor Daily News reported on it,” St. Clair said.

Golden pushed back.

“A mailer came to my house today,” he said. “This is an organization that says with a straight face that this is an issues ad, yet right front and center it says ‘Lucas St. Clair’ on it.”

St. Clair complained that he was being “attacked” in a television ad from Golden and said “we need to keep politics positive.”

The third candidate in the Augusta debate held by WMTW in Portland, WABI in Bangor and WAGM in Presque Isle, Islesboro bookseller Craig Olson, tried to steer the debate back to the issues, saying 2nd District voters “did not just fall off the turnip truck” and this debate is “taking more attention away from the issues facing Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.”

The rest of the debate addressed an array of issues on which the candidates agree, ranging from the need for better broadband service in rural Maine to all three saying they support a universal health care system. All three also said they oppose government entities randomly asking for citizenship documents unless there is a law enforcement reason to do so.

Olson made a conversation about ways to reduce student loan debt interesting. He said among other measures, the country should “seriously look at” allowing people to include their federal student loans in bankruptcy filings. Currently, those loans remain due even after a bankruptcy.

“You can lose your house, you can lose your car but that student loan is with you forever,” he said, adding later that he doesn’t think that option would be used “very often.”

St. Clair suggested ending the privatization of student loans and lowering interest rates, as well as reducing the cost of community college. Golden agreed about a cap on interest rates and said loan payments should be adjusted to scale with a person’s income. He also favors the government paying for two years of college in exchange for two years of service in the U.S. military.

Another point of disagreement is whether government should provide “safe-injection sites” where people addicted to drugs could inject themselves with medical personnel watching and treatment options available. Olson and St. Clair said they support the concept; Golden didn’t.

“I don’t think America should go down that path of having full-on legal use of harmful substances like opiates,” he said.

Whoever wins the Democratic primary will face an uphill battle against Poliquin. The Republican seeking his third term holds a major fundraising advantage in a district that has not voted out an incumbent in more than a century. Two independents, Tiffany Bond and William Hoar, also qualified for the November general election ballot.

Money and maneuvering in Democratic governor’s race

A national group shook up the race by committing $300,000 to the primary, most of it to attack one candidate. That group is EMILY’s List, which has endorsed Attorney General Janet Mills. An arm of the group is the sole funder of a new political committee that has allocated $200,000 of that to a digital ad campaign mostly attacking attorney Adam Cote.

Those negative ads haven’t shown up yet (as far as we know), but Cote struck back preemptively at the group in a Wednesday statement, saying Mainers should “reject this kind of desperate, out-of-state influence.”

Two Democratic gubernatorial candidates said Wednesday that they will campaign together until next week’s primary and one of them defended Cote. In an online video, former House Speaker Mark Eves and lobbyist Betsy Sweet, two of seven candidates in the primary, tout themselves as strong progressive candidates and urge voters to rank them first and second on the ranked-choice voting ballots that will be used in the election.

Eves has said already that Cote is his third choice and he defended him from the incoming attacks at a Wednesday forum, gaining applause after saying, “don’t let outside interests buy this election.”

This is a political play designed to knock off others in the race as much as it is any show of unity. Mills was the early front-runner in the race. The tempo of the campaign suggests she may still be in front, but the EMILY’s List play means that her supporters could see a vulnerability. The conventional wisdom also is that Cote and Sweet are rising after late advertising pushes and could make this interesting.

So, the three may be glomming onto each other to keep the people who vote for them first from making Mills their second or third choice. If Mills leads in the first round and they can depress her totals in the next few ranked-choice rounds, their chances to win could increase. But will such a strategy penetrate voters widely? It may take devoted ad campaigns.

Moody’s affirms Maine’s bond rating

The bond rating agency kept the state at its third-highest mark. Moody’s Investors Service, one of the top rating agencies, announced on Wednesday that it affirmed Maine’s Aa2 bond rating with a stable outlook. It’s a signal to people who buy state bonds that they come with “very low” credit risk.

In a report, the firm cited Maine’s strong reserves and predicted future revenue growth as positives, but negatives included weak demographic trends due to an aging population and an above-average debt and pension burden that is nonetheless being amortized quickly.

Reading list

  • Maine has a new group committed to fighting bias and hate crimes. A consortium of nonprofit organizations has united under the banner of unifymaine to “loudly tell traditionally targeted groups that the majority of Mainers do not support hatred in any form.” Leaders include Amy Sneirson of the Maine Human Rights Commission and Steve Wessler, a longtime Maine human rights educator, trainer and advocate.
  • There’s also a new website devoted to improving access to resources for people who have been sexually harassed in the workplace. The MaineCanDo website launched today. It results from a collaboration among Maine businesses, including the Bangor Daily News. It includes guidance from lawyers and sexual assault groups in Maine to help define sexual harassment and how to respond to it. The website has sections for companies, individuals and investors. It also has recommendations for bystanders who see sexual harassment.
  • Maine’s high court will rule on a rare request to exclude state prosecutors from a murder trial. On Tuesday, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court will consider arguments by attorneys for Sharon Carrillo — who with her husband, Julio, is accused of killing her 10-year-old daughter, Marissa Kennedy — that staff from the attorney general’s office should be barred from working on the prosecution because they mishandled subpoena rules in attempting to secure information from a school and business in New York. A lower court ruled against Carillo’s attorneys, who have appealed to the state’s top court.

Beam ME up

The Maine Lighthouse Trust announced this week that it’s forging ahead with plans to add another specialty plate to the state’s mix, which already includes loons, fish, an ungulate, farmers and icons of other good causes. The proposed lighthouse plate — which you can see and pre-order here — would generate funding to help preserve and promote lighthouses along Maine’s coast.

At least 2,000 Maine residents with vehicles registered in the state must pre-order the plates before the secretary of state’s office can submit legislation to flip the switch on the idea. The plates would cost $25, with $10 from the initial purchase and $10 from each annual renewal going to the trust.

I had thought of making the entire oeuvre of Lighthouse, “Canada’s best loved fusion band,” our soundtrack — mostly for this. But instead, let’s stick with a soundtrack from this side of the border. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins, Michael Shepherd and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

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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.