Behind the numbers in Maine’s latest campaign finance reports

Good morning from Augusta, where there’s a lot of Democratic fundraising momentum in Maine’s gubernatorial and legislative races — and not just because of a strong summer showing from Attorney General Janet Mills, the Democratic nominee for governor.

Mills raised a strong $800,000 from mid-July through last week, more than doubling up Republican nominee Shawn Moody over that period, resulting in an overall fundraising lead for the Democrat since the primary, though the two have roughly the same amount left.

That’s good for Democrats, but it looks like there will soon be a deluge of outside money aimed at keeping the Blaine House in Republican hands, fighting Democratic headwinds in President Donald Trump’s midterm year. A poll found the race to be statistically tied early last month.

The bigger money edge for Democratic is in Maine Senate races, where canny management of the state’s public campaign financing system could pay dividends in a closely divided chamber.

Mills’ campaign is raising tons of money and getting disproportionate help from outside groups, but Republicans seem to be gearing up for their own effort. The Democrat has run a sharp campaign so far, raising $1.85 million to Moody’s $1.41 million as of Sept. 17, although his campaign has been more frugal and they have roughly the same amount left.

The party nominees also have to contend with two well-funded independents, with State Treasurer Terry Hayes raising $1.1 million through the Clean Election system and consultant Alan Caron running a largely self-funded bid to the tune of $779,000 so far.

However, all of these sums will almost certainly soon be dwarfed by outside groups. In 2014, outside spending hit $14 million just before Election Day and they have spent almost $3 million so far in the governor’s race this year, with Mills benefiting from most of it.

So far, a group linked to the Democratic Governors Association and the super PAC Priorities USA Action have spent $1.7 million of that alone. The Republican Governors Association hasn’t fought back yet, but it registered a political committee in Maine last week — a signal that it’s ready to spend.

While candidate fundraising is important, this outside money will be what really blankets the airwaves over the next six weeks — so watch that closely.

The Clean Election system is really helping Democratic candidates in the Senate, with Republicans lagging far behind. The Maine Senate, which Republicans control by just one seat, will be one of the more fascinating political battlegrounds here in 2018. A drafting error in the state budget was keeping lots of Clean Election money out of legislative races for much of the summer, but that issue is now fixed and the spigot is back on.

In the Senate, Democrats are reaping the rewards — and it’s not close. The top 17 fundraisers in races for the upper chamber are Democrats using the Clean Election system.

They include virtually all of Democrats’ top targets in swing districts held by Republicans now, including House Majority Leader Erin Herbig of Belfast, physician Ned Claxton of Auburn, former state Rep. Linda Sanborn of Gorham and former Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman of Nobleboro. Two of them are running against incumbents.

However, Democrats’ fundraising leads are so disproportionate that some of those top fundraisers under the Clean Election system aren’t even in competitive districts, such as Jan Collins of Wilton, who is running against state Rep. Russell Black, R-Wilton, in a heavily Republican area centered on Franklin County.

Correction: Two of the four Democratic Senate candidates in swing districts mentioned above — Sanborn and Fortman — are running against Republican incumbents, not three. It was a reporter’s error.

Collins’ pharmacy ‘gag rule ban’ bill heads to Trump

A Maine senator’s effort to help consumers pay the lowest cost for prescription medication advanced Tuesday. The Patient Right to Know Drug Prices Act and a complementary bill, both authored by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, passed the House by voice votes on Tuesday. Having already cleared the Senate, they now go to the president, who is expected to sign them.

The bills to overturn “gag clauses” are intended to increase transparency by forcing pharmacists to divulge when a prescription would be cheaper if a patient paid out of pocket. Prior to the bill, pharmacists were contractually prohibited in some cases from telling patients that a drug might be dramatically cheaper if not paid through insurance. A study published this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association examining 9.5 million claims over half a year found 23 percent of prescriptions would have cost the customer less had they paid out of pocket.

Collins, who has called the withholding practice “egregious,” said in a tweet after Tuesday’s House vote that the law would “help lower the cost of prescription drugs and save consumers money.”

York County candidates face fines

The Maine Ethics Commission will decide Wednesday morning whether to waive or reduce financial penalties against three Democrats. Rep. Mark Lawrence, D-Eliot, former gubernatorial candidate Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, and former state Sen. John Tuttle, D-Sanford, all missed candidacy filing deadlines in their campaigns.

In these cases, Tuttle, who is running to regain his old seat, was a day late filing his 42-day post-primary report; an ad production company contracted by Eves’ campaign didn’t turn over its bill quickly enough, causing him to miss a filing deadline; and Lawrence, a former Senate president who is running for an open Senate seat, turned in an incomplete expense report that wasn’t updated for 53 days.

These “well-intentioned mistakes” triggered an automatic penalty process that’s expected to result in a vote Wednesday to reduce the amount each has been fined, said Jonathan Wayne, the executive director of the commission.

Reading list

  • There’s a new plan to pump life into Maine’s beleaguered forest products industry. A coalition of public and private entities on Tuesday unveiled a five-point proposal to help the once-prosperous industry grow 40 percent over the next six years — from $8.5 billion to $12 billion by 2025. Recommendations, presented during a program at the University of Maine’s School of Forest Resources, include investing in Maine’s existing forest product economy; promoting sustainable forestry practices; developing a larger workforce; supporting the rural communities where the industry’s future lies but mills closures have left hard-hit; and finding public sector partners willing to help achieve the plan’s goals.
  • Maine Republicans lost their candidate in the race to succeed a departing Republican district attorney. Yarmouth attorney Randall Bates said Tuesday that he is dropping out of the race to succeed Republican District Attorney Stephanie Anderson, who has been Cumberland County’s DA since 1991. Bates’ exit leaves Democratic defense attorney Jon Gale and Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck, an independent, competing for the lead prosecutor job.
  • A woman accused of murder in the death of a 4-year-old will go to trial in January. Shawna Gatto, 44, of Wiscasset is charged with with depraved indifference murder in the death of 4-year-old Kendall Chick on Dec. 8, 2017. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services placed Chick in the custody of her grandfather, Stephen Hood, and Gatto in January 2017. Her trial is now scheduled to begin on Jan. 24, 2019. Gatto waived her right to a jury trial, so Superior Court Justice William Stokes will decide her fate. The case is one of two deaths of children allegedly at the hands of their caregivers that prompted state government leaders to review and make changes in Maine’s child protective services system.

Just Dunkin’

Dunkin’ Donuts officially shortened its name to Dunkin’ on Tuesday. For language purists, I guess that means one less annoying misspelling of “doughnuts” in our commercial vernacular. Those of us who proofread signs while traversing America’s highways and byways will have to find another pique experience.

For me, Dunkin’ Donuts lost its appeal when the company stopped baking doughnuts — or whatever those fat-drenched sugar rings are – at each shop and began trucking them in from some huge centrally located cholesterol factory. That helped the company complete a major expansion — at one time there were at least five Dunkin’ Donuts shops in Augusta alone – but lost this doughnut devotee as a loyal customer.

Good luck with the new name. Here’s your soundtrack. And please update this video ASAP. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

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Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.