Big Money Reigns in Maine Politics
We just watched the most expensive gubernatorial race in Maine history - a whopping $23 million was spent by outside groups in the contest between Governor Janet Mills and Paul LePage. This shatters the record $18 million set in 2018. Meanwhile, the State Senate race in Aroostook County surpassed $1 million in spending, more than twice what was spent on any other state legislative race this year. Over 93 percent of this spending came from outside groups.
This is part of a growing trend of big money being spent by outside groups to sway elections in Maine. Last year, groups on both sides of the Question 1 debate spent nearly $100 million to decide the future of the CMP corridor, the most expensive referendum campaign in state history. More than half of that money came from CMP and its partners, including parent company Iberdrola in Spain and Hydro-Quebec in Canada. In 2020, the Senate race between Sarah Gideon and Susan Collins saw over $200 million in spending.
The rapid increase in campaign spending is hardly a Maine-specific problem. Since the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC opened the door to unlimited campaign spending, corporations and outside groups have increased their election spending by 900 percent with little to no accountability.
This trend is not merely an increasingly irritating barrage of political advertising and campaign emails. It’s a clear sign that wealthy donors and special interests are drowning out the voices of everyday Mainers. The only way we can hope to restore a democracy that works for us is to get big money out of politics.
Maine legislators and citizens alike are taking steps to address the problem of outside spending in state elections. This year, the group Protect Maine Elections gathered over 80,000 signatures from voters to put a question on next year’s ballot to ban spending on referendum campaigns by corporations with partial foreign ownership, including Versant. Maine is also one of 19 states that publicly supports a constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United. The proposed referendum on spending by multinational corporations reaffirms this support.