Sunday, November 28, 2010

Maine: Who bankrolled LePage?

A lot of people didn't want Tea Party darling Paul LePage to become Maine's next governor; he squeaked to victory with just 38 percent of the vote -- one point higher than independent Eliot Cultler -- winning not a single daily newspaper endorsement. Prone to temper tantrums and the utterance of erroneous statements, Mr. LePage's animus against environmental regulations, health care reform, and the Maine Human Rights Act alienated a great many independents, who form the plurality of Maine voters. Democrats and Greens were a lost cause.

I've been curious who liked LePage enough to not only vote for him, but to actually bankroll his campaign. There are two ways to explore this. The first is to examine lists of donors who gave directly to his campaign, which provides a sense of his grassroots support here in Maine. The second is to look at the sources of the real corporate-scale cash that poured in from the Republican Governors Association, paying for many of the negative ads aimed at undermining his opponents. I've had a quick look at both.

Direct campaign donations are limited to $750 per real or corporate person, making it hard for any one interest group to dominate a candidate's war chest. Even so, a few names and interest clusters stick out.

Pre-primary donors -- people who thought LePage was the best Republican candidate -- included Linda Bean, her sister Diana Bean, and her mother Hazel Dyer ($750 each) and Eric, Peggy, Tucker, Michael, Kenneth, Erica, and Emily Cianchette ($750 each, except Emily who gave $500).

General election donors included James, Robert, Darin, and John Quirk of the Quirk Auto Group ($750 each), Sandi, Sam, Corey, Toby, and Sandra Knight of the Knight Auto Group ($750 each); , David, Sigrid, and Jane Marden of Mardens ($750 each), incoming House speaker Robert Nutting ($750), state Sen. Peter Mills ($750), Caspar Weinberger Jr. ($350), Portland developer Joe Boulos ($750); Rite Aid ($250); First Wind LLC ($750), Emerson Toyota of Auburn ($750), Central Maine Motors and their owner ($750 each); Howard Dana of lobbying powerhouse Verill Dana ($750), Maine Health president William Caron ($750); Linda Bean and Diana Bean again ($750 more each); Peter, Eric, Mac, Kenneth and Priscilla Cianchette ($750 each), Matthew, Lori, Jennifer, Lon, Christopher, and Kerry Sue Walters of Woodlands Assisted Living ($750 each); and Dean Scontras ($200). Amusement parks also like LePage, who got $750 donations from Palace Playland in Old Orchard Beach and the owners of Aqua Boggin. So do anesthesiologists, including their state association ($750) and their main employer here, the Spectrum Group ($500). (If you want to browse Mr. LePage's disclosures yourself, you'll find them all here.)

But the really big cash behind LePage was funneled into the race via the Republican Governors Association's Maine PAC, which spent nearly a million dollars on media buys supporting LePage or attacking his opponents. Who really brought those ads? Fifty out of state corporations and industry associations to whom LePage owes a great debt including:

(Those wishing to research the RGA Maine PACs donors and expenditures on their own can do so via this page.)

I'll be keeping an eye out to see if any of these firms show up in Maine, looking for contracts or legislation.

[Update, 1/20/2011: I've taken a more detailed look at these donors and their interests in Maine for the Portland Phoenix.]

[Update, 1/24/2011: LePage has nominated a CCA warden to head the Dept. of Corrections.]

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Signing books, Portland, Maine, Nov. 26

Black Friday participants take note: the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance is holding their annual Holiday Book Sale at the Portland Public Library from 12 to 6pm Friday. Some two dozen Maine authors will be on hand to sign books. Proceeds go to MWPA and Longfellow Books, Portland's flagship independent bookseller.

I'll be there from 4pm to 6pm to sign copies of The Lobster Coast, The Republic of Pirates, and Ocean's End. Come by and say hello.

Other authors include:
Charlotte Agell, Adrian Blevins, Jane Brox, Richard Cohen, Ron Currie, Jr, Gail Donovan, Sandra Dutton, James Hayman, Phillip Hoose, Lily King, Elizabeth Kirschner, Cynthia Lord, Wesley McNair, Lincoln Peirce, Susan Hand Shetterly, Betsy Sholl, Jeffrey Thomson, and Greg A. Zielinski.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Maine political items: Nov. 23 edition

A few items of note for those with an obsessive interest in Maine politics:

In campaign, Baldacci did as asked: I recently interviewed Governor John Baldacci for an upcoming Down East story on the election. One tangential item from our talk that didn't make it into the piece: why did he have such a low profile in the recent election (in which would-be Democratic Libby Mitchell came in a distant third)?

"I certainly did whatever I was asked to do and wanted to be helpful," Baldacci said. "I supported and voted for Libby Mitchell and got involved in the land bond conservation effort while I was trying to help with the coordinated campaign efforts and the like."

Maine Dem Honcho Steps Down: Arden Manning, who headed the Maine Democratic Party's less than triumphant 2010 campaign efforts, will step down on Dec. 31 to pursue graduate studies in France, the Press Herald reported in an easy-to-miss brief yesterday. Manning took considerable heat for a series of negative campaign ads containing falsehoods and Sinophobic messaging.

Opponent of Portland elected mayor considering bid to become elected mayor: Cheryl Leeman, the sole Republican on the Portland city council, spearheaded the effort to stop Portlanders from instituting an elected mayor. But towards the end of this Press Herald piece she notes she hasn't ruled out running for the new post, which voters approved earlier this month. (Some background on the elected mayor story here.)

In a possibly related move, she declined her fellow councilor's offer to serve as the last appointed mayor in lieu of letting Democrat Nick Mavodones occupy the post. One thing is for certain: the Democratic majority on the council would rather have a Republican mayor than allow their true rivals, the Greens, to occupy the ceremonial position.

Following the money imperiled again? Last year I broke the story that Maine city clerks had destroyed most of the campaign finance disclosures (for city offices) in their possession, on the bad advice of a poorly-informed state bureaucrat. As a result, it is now impossible to fully reconstruct who past and present city politicos owe their careers to, including, say, Governor-elect (and former Waterville mayor) Paul LePage.

As a result of my reporting, the legislature ultimately amended the appropriate law to correct the problem. As of August 2011, the state Ethics commission is to take over the task of gathering and permanently archiving disclosures for Maine municipal offices for towns with a population of 15,000 or greater), just as they already do for state elections candidates.

But this morning, the Ethics commission held a conference call with the city clerks to tell them why they've decided to ask the new legislature to delay or reverse the change in responsibility, claiming it will be too hard or costly to accomplish by next August. If this happens, the only online source of campaign disclosures for Maine's largest city will remain my own webpage, which costs me $12 a month and takes a few hours of my time each election cycle.

[Update, 11/23/10, 16:05: I had an opportunity to speak with Ethics commission executive director Jonathan Wayne and learned that (a) the central problem has to do with adapting their database to allow municipal candidates to file electronically; (b) the discussion with clerks suggested a sort-of no frills alternative -- a database of scanned PDFs, for instance -- would probably satisfy everyone, without imposing undue costs and technical challenges. Mr. Wayne said the commission will be considering the issue over the next couple of weeks.]

I'll be following this story, of course. But for those interested in the whole saga, here's a list of appropriate posts.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Maine ports: if you build them, will ships come?

In my bi-monthly column in Working Waterfront, Parallel 44, I look at the latest round of public investments in Maine's struggling shipping ports. State and federal taxpayers are investing millions in this once-crucial infrastructure. So what's the plan?

Maine's media being what it is, I've also managed a "scoop": Maine's only container port shut operation down back in August, when the longstanding scheduled barge service ceased all New England operations. Funny thing: the Portland Press Herald always prints a sunny piece whenever container operations resume at the city owned port, but rarely reports when those operations fail. (The paper never misses a story celebrating their own owner/editor, though; and they wonder why their circulation is plummeting faster than any other daily in the state.)

After reading, those with an unhealthy interest in Maine ports may find more details in the state's federal grant application.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tidal Power surges forward

Wind energy gets most of the attention on the renewable front these days, but a new generation of tidal energy technologies promise to generate environmentally-friendly flows of electricity in quantities that can be predicted decades ahead of time.

Not surprisingly, the Bay of Fundy region -- southern New Brunswick, the left side of Nova Scotia, and easternmost Maine -- is emerging as the leading test center for the industry worldwide; it has the world's largest tides, peaking at 50 feet at the head of Nova Scotia's Minas Basin (and still a healthy twenty feet on the Maine-New Brunswick border.) But what has surprised industry experts is that a Maine-based start-up has leapfrogged ahead of its older European competitors to become the forerunner in making the technology commercially viable.

I tell the story in this feature in the new issue of Down East, including the hopes its generating in Easternmost Maine, where F.D.R. intended to build the world's largest tidal project in the depths of the last Great Depression. (Unfortunately, the piece had to be cut for space at the last minute, so I'll likely be reporting some lost details in another venue.)

One programing note: hiatus complete, I'll be back in the magazine's Talk of Maine column next issue.

[Update, 11/15/10, 12:00: The government of Canada just announced it's investing $20 million in Nova Scotia's tidal energy test site.]

Monday, November 8, 2010

Talking Coastal Maine's identity, Wells, Nov. 9

Residents of Southern Maine: I'll be giving my talk on the past, present, and future of coastal Maine as part of York County Community College's Distinguished Lecture Series on Tuesday, November 9, at 4pm at the main YCCC building in Wells. The talk is based on my New England Bestseller, The Lobster Coast.

It's the last talk I currently have scheduled this calendar year, but you can always find newly scheduled events via my speaking page.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Talking Coastal Maine's identity, Cape Elizabeth, tonight

Residents of Greater Portland: I'll be giving my talk on the past, present, and future of coastal Maine as the keynote address to the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust's annual meeting, which takes place from 5 to 7 pm today at the Local Buzz, 327 Ocean House Road. The talk is based on my New England Bestseller, The Lobster Coast.

I'd have mentioned it earlier, but I hadn't been aware it was open to the wider public until I saw this notice in today's Maine Sunday Telegram. I understand space is in short supply at this point, so if you're thinking of attending, RSVP ahead at 767-6054.

Can't make it on short notice? Note I'm giving an expanded version of this talk in Wells, Maine on Tuesday, Nov. 9, as part of the York County Community College's Distinguished Lecture Series.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Maine: did outside negative ads work in local Senate races?

This campaign season was one of Maine's nastier ones in recent memory, in large part because of the role false negative advertising played in the election. Both Democratic and Republican groups indulged in outright lies about various candidates' records. But did it help them?

There's already been plenty of attention given to the gubernatorial race, where the Maine Democratic Party's decision to stretch the truth beyond the breaking point appears to have backfired, fueling the nearly successful last-minute stampede to independent Eliot Cutler, who finished a narrow second in the race. Mr. Cutler has argued that the experience shows that false campaign advertising doesn't work in Maine.

One hopes that is the case, but the outcome of five key state senate races provides evidence to the contrary.

In the waning days of the campaign, the Kennebec Journal reported that the D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee had dumped a staggering $400,000 into five state senate races, in most cases spending more than the actual candidates combined. (The RSLC had also failed to disclose their contributions in a timely fashion, meaning Democratic clean elections candidates didn't receive matching funds in time to use them effectively.) Most of the money was spent on negative -- and in some cases, false -- advertising against the Democrats in the race, and in a tone so unpleasant that even some of the Republican candidates denounced them. “There’s an ugly side to this that doesn’t belong here,” Republican Senate District 28 candidate Brian Langley told the Bangor Daily News, adding the ads could well hurt him.

Not so, it turns out. The ads appear to have worked.

In all five races targeted by the RSLC media blitz, the Democratic candidates lost: Lois A Snowe Melllo (R) took out Deborah Simpson 54-46 in District 15; Nichi Farnham (R) beat Joseph Perry 56-44 in District 32; Tom Martin Jr. (R) defeated Pamela Trinward (D) 54-46 in District 25, and Mr. Langley prevailed over Democratic rival James Schatz and onetime Green gubernatorial candidate Lynne Williams in District 28 by 52-35-13. In District 24, Augusta's Republican mayor, Roger Katz (who also condemned the ads) defeated Democrat Patsy Crockett 62-38.

There's no way to quantify the effect the ads had on these election results, but at least two of the races were close enough for the ads to have easily been decisive, helping give the GOP control of the Senate. Expect the RSLC -- and possibly its Democratic counterpart -- to intervene in our elections from here on out.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Maine: final pre-election round-up

Election day is tomorrow. Here are a few final items for Mainers and Maine aficionados:

Angus King condemns false political ads, endorses Cutler: As you've probably heard by now, two-term independent governor Angus King gave independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler a last minute endorsement Saturday. What you may have missed is that the speech King gave was uncharacteristically pointed, and well worth watching in its entirety. He says while he respects Paul LePage and has a 25-year friendship with Libby Mitchell, extreme partisanship and the negative mailers from the Maine Democrats deployed against Cutler compelled him to take a position.

Mitchell campaign and the FiveThirtyEight engine: Amid the growing consensus that Mitchell is indeed the spoiler who will give LePage the Blaine House, Mitchell supporters have clung to the New York Times' "FiveThirtyEight" forecasting engine, which claimed for most of the election that Cutler had a "zero percent" chance of winning. That's changed in the past week, but the algorithms in the engine don't respond to sudden changes, like the rapid sea change in polling numbers for Cutler and the endorsements of him of virtually every newspaper in Maine.

But as the New York Times' very own Five Thirty Eight blog notes: "If a candidate upends [LePage] at the last minute, it might indeed be Mr. Cutler rather than Ms. Mitchell. The model finally puts Mr. Cutler on the scoreboard, giving him about a 2 percent chance of victory (it had given him almost no chance before). I suspect that is a bit low, and that Ms. Mitchell’s chances, down sharply on Friday to 5 percent, are too high. The movement in this race is occurring very, very rapidly, in a way that sometimes occurs in primaries but is extremely rare in general elections."

Is the Maine Tea Party non-partisan?: Maine's "Tea Party" movement is just as ideologically ambiguous and institutionally fractured as its counterparts elsewhere in the country, so any conversation about what and who it supports isn't going to reach any solid conclusions. Still, it's interesting to see one of its (many) leaders holding a press conference to try to emphasize that it doesn't endorse candidates, even Republican First District Congressional candidate Dean Scontras, who's said he likes to think of himself as one of the movement's founders. But, then, the very same Tea Party leader has actively campaigned for Republican Second District Congressional candidate Jason Levesque on one of the principle Tea Party websites. No wonder we're confused!

Who's against an elected Portland mayor? Last week I posted a summary of campaign and PAC financial disclosures for local Portland races and ballot questions. The latter include a vote on whether to institute a directly elected mayor, an issue I've written about in Down East. Afterward, I realized the clerks had not given me the disclosures for the anti-mayor group, the grandly named Citizens to Retain Responsible Government, headed by longtime councilor Cheryl Leeman and the "unofficial mayor of Commercial Street," Cyrus Hagge, a philanthropist and president of a general contracting firm.

Another tedious trip to City Hall yields this snapshot of the anti-mayor cause. Ms. Leeman's PAC raised far less than its opponents -- $1175 in the current period -- and most of the contributions came from real estate interests, including (Mr. Hagge's) Project Management Inc., 2 Union Street LLC, 217 Commerical Street LLC, Bowball Investments LLC, and Mary Boulos of Cape Elizabeth. This would seem to indicate that at least some developers feel threatened by the idea of an elected mayor, even a weak one.

[Update, 11/1/2010, 14:45: One final poll out today, this from my colleagues at Down East. It shows LePage way ahead, Cutler in second, and Mitchell trailing. Mike Tipping -- perhaps the Maine media's closest thing to a polling expert -- has all the details.]