Spending in Maine gubernatorial race surges to new record

Oct. 28—Total spending in this year's gubernatorial race now exceeds $23 million, making the contest between Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and former two-term Republican Gov. Paul LePage the most expensive race for the Blaine House in state history.

Most of that money — $16.6 million through Thursday — has been spent by groups that are not affiliated with any candidates and are trying to sway voters largely with attack ads on television, radio and digital platforms.

The 11-day preelection reports due Friday cover activity from Sept. 21 through Oct. 25. They represent the last full look at candidate fundraising and spending before the Nov. 8 election, although campaigns will continue to report major donations and expenses between now and Election Day.

Mills has consistently led LePage in fundraising. Heading into Friday, she held a more than 2-1 advantage, raising about $4.8 million to LePage's $2.2 million. And Mills maintained that advantage over the last fundraising period.

The Mills campaign said that it has raised $5.5 million to support her campaign, including about $717,000 over the last month. The campaign had about $315,500 on hand.

"We are proud of the tremendous support we have from people across the state. With a little more than a week left in this campaign, our strong fundraising numbers continue to show that Maine people believe in Janet, her leadership, and her positive vision for Maine," Mills Campaign Manager Alexandra Raposo said in a written statement.

"From delivering $850 in inflation relief, to expanding health care, to fully funding education, to cutting taxes and providing property tax relief, Janet is focused on helping Maine people through these difficult times," Raposo said. "She will continue to work hard every day to earn the trust and votes of Maine people and fight hard to improve their lives and livelihoods."

LePage's campaign has raised a total of $2.5 million, including $289,000 over the last month, it said. The campaign has $872,000 on hand for the final stretch.

"Just like the last two elections won by Paul LePage, he will be outraised and outspent," LePage political adviser Brent Littlefield said in a statement. "The airwaves are filled with Janet Mills' false ads. Paul LePage is getting his message out that we must move Maine forward."

As of Friday afternoon, neither campaign had filed detailed reports including lists of donors and expenses in the past month. Those were due by midnight.

Independent Sam Hunkler, a political newcomer, is mounting a long-shot campaign for governor against two of Maine's political powerhouses. The retired Beals physician has not been raising any money. Instead, he has set a self-imposed budget of $5,000, which he is self-funding.

Through Oct. 25, Hunkler had not raised any additional funds, leaving his total at about $4,240. He had less than $375 in cash remaining.

The totals raised by the campaigns fall far short of the spending by outside groups acting independently of the candidates.

AdImpact, an Alexandra, Virginia-based group that tracks and projects political spending, has estimated that $27 million will be spent on the three-way race for governor.

Total spending by outside groups and gubernatorial candidates this cycle has reached $23.4 million combined. That's already millions more than the $18 million spent in the 2018 gubernatorial contest and the $18.7 million spent in 2014. When adjusted for inflation, the amount as of this week — a number certain to grow before Nov. 8 — is roughly equal to the record amount spent through election day in 2014.

In 2018, the four candidates running for governor spent $6.9 million, including $3 million by Mills. In 2014, when LePage was elected to his second term, all three candidates for governor spent $8 million, with LePage spending $2 million against his two rivals, Democratic Congressman Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler, who spent about $3 million each.

Through Oct. 27, outside groups have spent a whopping $22.5 million in Maine's legislative and gubernatorial elections, including $12.4 million in October alone. That far exceeds the $14 million spent through October in 2018 and the $13.5 million spent in 2014.

The vast majority of that outside spending has been in the gubernatorial election. Through Oct. 27, groups have spent $16.6 million trying to influence voters, including $8.6 million this month alone. Those totals are also much higher than the gubernatorial elections in 2018, when $11.3 million was spent through October, and in 2014, when $10.7 million was spent. Adjusted for inflation, outside group spending in 2014 and 2018 is equivalent to $13 million today.

That spending by outside groups is mostly feeding attack ads on television, radio or online, as well as printed ads filling voters' mailboxes.

BIG SPENDING BY OUTSIDE GROUPS

So far, Mills has been the primary beneficiary, with about $9.3 million being spent by outside groups trying boost her candidacy, including $8 million in ads attacking LePage, who has benefited from more than $7 million in outside spending.

Nearly all of that anti-LePage ad money is coming from Better Maine, which is funded and controlled by the Democratic Governors Association. Better Maine has spent about $7.1 million on ads attacking LePage, plus $570,000 supporting Mills.

The incumbent also is getting help from public school, conservation and abortion rights groups, which have spent a combined nearly $1.2 million to boost Mills. The Planned Parenthood Action Fund has spent $352,000 opposing LePage, Maine Conservation Voters has spent $604,000 mostly in support of Mills, and Citizens Who Support Public Schools has spent $218,000 mostly to oppose LePage.

The Maine Democratic Party has spent just over $100,000 opposing LePage.

LePage, meanwhile, has benefited from about $7.3 million in spending by outside groups, with about $6.1 million being spent on ads opposing Mills.

Most of LePage's outside support is coming from the Maine Republican Party and Maine Families First, a political action committee controlled by the Virginia-based conservative group, American Principles Project.

The Republican Party has spent $5.2 million this cycle trying to help LePage, mostly by attacking Mills' education and economic policies on TV, radio, direct mail and text messaging.

Maine Families First has spent nearly $2 million on similar messaging against Mills, mostly online and on TV ads.

Maine Families First is funded by Tom Klingenstein, a conservative megadonor and chairman of the Claremont Institute, a California-based right-wing think tank. Klingenstein believes the United States is currently in "a cold civil war" over the American way of life between "those who think America is good and those who think America is bad," according to his website.