National groups flex their spending muscles in Maine’s gubernatorial election

LEWISTON – The Republican Governors Association has launched a television advertising campaign in Maine on behalf of Republican gubernatorial candidate Chandler Woodcock.

The ad, which can be viewed at www.rga.org, is a biographical portrait of Woodcock that emphasizes his experiences as a soldier and public school teacher.

“New solutions to change Maine’s direction take experience,” the ad says, before adding that Woodcock has a plan to lower taxes, cap state spending and lower health care costs.

The Republican Governors Association considers Maine a top priority this year and presents a prime opportunity for Republicans to pick up a governorship, said Rob Van Raaphorst, the group’s spokesman.

“Under the current administration, Maine is experiencing out-of-control state spending and an unhealthy tax burden,” Van Raaphorst said. “It’s important for people to know about the policy options available for them.”

Van Raaphorst would not say how much the RGA is spending to run the ad or disclose how long it will be on the air.

According to the Maine Democratic Party, the RGA is spending $200,000 and the ad will run for nearly two weeks.

Democrats attacked RGA’s participation in Maine’s gubernatorial campaign and described the advertising buy as substantial and “full saturation.”

“Chandler Woodcock, a career clean elections candidate, opened his door to Washington Republicans and their slush fund,” state Democratic Party Chairman Ben Dudley said in a statement. “Unfortunately, both Woodcock and his national Republican allies are careful to avoid specifics in his heavily touted ‘new’ plan. It’s clear to me that behind the mounds of cash Woodcock’s Washington friends are using to bankroll his candidacy there really isn’t any plan.”

Woodcock isn’t the only recipient of national money this year.

The Democratic Governors Association has sent at least $112,000 to the state Democratic Party, which Dudley leads, since 2005. On June 20, the party received a single contribution of $75,000 from the DGA.

Dudley drew a distinction between the two.

“We have been working for eight or nine months with the assistance of the Democratic Governors Association on all kinds of party building activities,” Dudley said. “The Republican Governors Association is coming into the state unilaterally seeking to influence the outcome of a Maine election,” he said, “rather than working through a Maine-based organization.”

Woodcock’s campaign dismissed the charges that their candidate had opened the door to out-of-state money or violated the spirit of the Maine Clean Election Act’s spending limits.

“It sounds like another frivolous complaint by John Baldacci and his allies,” said Chris Jackson, Woodcock’s campaign manager.

Jackson said he saw the ad for the first time Wednesday night on the Republican Governors Association Web site. The Woodcock campaign did not authorize the ad, he said.

“It has flattering images and messages in there for sure,” Jackson said. “But you can’t control what third parties do – good, bad or indifferent.”

The ad, which does not expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a particular candidate even though it’s intended to benefit Woodcock, is not likely to trigger matching funds for Independent Barbara Merrill or Green Independent Pat LaMarche, who are also running as clean election candidates.

“From what I’ve seen, it seems to be a straightforward issue ad,” Jackson said.

Dudley agreed, saying that the Republican Governors Association had been careful not to cross the line into directly advocating for Woodcock’s election.

But LaMarche said she intends to file a formal inquiry with the state’s Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices and let it determine if the ad represents direct advocacy.

“Clearly, I think it is,” LaMarche said. “It uses Chandler’s image, it uses his name. It doesn’t say to contact the candidates running for governor and tell them you care about these issues. It says to call Chandler Woodcock. … I can’t imagine that they’re not advocating for Chandler Woodcock.”

“There’s nothing wrong with advocating for their candidate,” LaMarche continued. “It’s just that under the current structure Chandler Woodcock entered the clean election system so this kind of ad would trigger matching money.”

Merrill said she doesn’t think that the ethics commission will award matching money based on the law and the fact the commission is made up of two Republicans, two Democrats and only one independent.

“It’s a loophole that you can drive $200,000 through. It’s a loophole you can drive $2 million through,” Merrill said about the distinction between an issue ad and direct advocacy. “Democrats are going to cry foul today, but they’re going to do the same thing tomorrow.”

She also offered a prediction.

“Both the Democrats and the Republicans are planning to spend millions of dollars to undermine the spending limits in the Clean Election Act,” Merrill said. “They have an interest in keeping (the law) this way because it undermines the ability of an independent to be able to finance her campaign.”

Candidates who qualified for public financing received an initial distribution of $400,000 from the state. They can qualify for as much as $1.2 million each if any other candidate raises or spends more than $400,000 or the spending total is boosted over the cap by independent expenditures.

In the last 21 days of the campaign, any ad that names a particular candidate, whether it is express advocacy or not, can trigger matching money for clean election candidates.


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