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by Faith DeAmbrose
With less than a week left until the November 2 election, a large infusion of cash from outside Maine has made its way to the Senate District 28 race. It aims to support Republican Brian Langley of Ellsworth at the expense of Democrat Jim Schatz. Langley’s response: “Thanks, but no thanks.”
According to documents filed by the Republican State Leadership Committee-Maine PAC, a national political action committee, not affiliated with the Maine Republican Party, more than $398,000 has been spent in five races across the state with the intent of electing Republicans.
Locally, the money has paid for mail and television advertisements that attack Schatz’s voting record as a Blue Hill selectman.
Langley, who, along with those he opposes is a Clean Elections candidate, said not only was the influx of money on his behalf unexpected, it was also unwelcome.
“It’s like name calling in the sandbox and that’s what people are so angry about,” Langley said in a telephone interview. “I have tried to keep this race above board and then these folks come in and they are hurting me. I want to win or lose on my own merit.”
The expenditure is being challenged by the Maine Democratic Party, which filed a formal complaint with the Maine Ethics Commission. The complaint contends that by failing to disclose the expenses within 24 hours of spending the money, “the RSLC deliberately committed a violation to stop Clean Elections Act candidates from receiving matching funds in time to utilize them,” according to a press release from the Maine Democratic Party.
“Maine clean elections law demands that expenses be reported within 24 hours of agreeing with an expense. The RSLC reported their expenses the same day their negative mail was delivered, clearly showing they reported late,” the release continued. Under the law, outside money not sanctioned by a candidate, spent from outside groups to oppose candidates, results in matching funds for other candidates in a particular race.
Adam Temple, spokesman for the Republican State Leadership Committee, which is based in a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C., said in a telephone interview the organization denies any wrongdoing and is “confident we are in compliance with the law.”
In District 28, $65,387 in money from the group has been allocated to “oppose” Jim Schatz, and $6,908 will be used to “support” Brian Langley. No mention was made in the campaign finance disclosure of the third candidate in the race, Green Independent Lynne Williams. Because of clean elections law, Williams, will also receive state money due to the third party infusion of funds.
According to the Maine Clean Election Act, political action committees “can not make contributions directly to Clean Elections Candidates. They may spend an unlimited amount of funds to support or oppose a candidate, provided that the expenditure is made independently of the candidate.”
Langley said he did not know about the expenditure until it had been finalized and said he believes the television ads and mailers could actually end up costing him the race.
Langley said that when the television ads began to appear, he contacted the individual television stations to request that the ads stop. He has not been successful. “I don’t know how you stop this group,” Langley said.
The mailings attacking Schatz concern two topics: fireworks and a school consolidation repeal by the town of Blue Hill. The mailers contend that “Schatz and the Blue Hill Selectmen paid $10,000 taxpayer dollars to a political organization,” and that “Schatz then voted to cancel the $10,000 fireworks celebration for the Fourth of July.”
Fact-checking of these statements shows that Schatz did not do either. Blue Hill voters, at a special town meeting on January 2, 2008, authorized $10,000 to be used toward repeal of the school consolidation legislation enacted the previous year. At that special town meeting Schatz served as moderator and therefore did not have the opportunity to even cast a vote. The funds were given to the Maine Coalition to Save Schools to gather signatures for a repeal effort. Many towns across the state voted similarly.
The second claim regarding fireworks does not agree with the record. According to minutes of the Blue Hill Board of Selectmen’s meeting of March 6, 2009, a vote was taken, and the board of selectmen did vote to suspend funds for fireworks, which would have ultimately been paid back by the group organizing Fourth of July activities. However, the vote was 1-2 with Schatz voting in favor of fireworks. He was out voted.
“This is dishonest and an attempt to buy a [Senate] seat,” Schatz said. When asked why he believes the RSLC would target him, he said he believes it is purely for partisan reasons. Calling it an attempt to gain a Republican majority in the Senate, he said there “is obviously a significant benefit to being in the majority.”
Schatz said that while he has been authorized by the Ethics Commission to spend an additional $38,000 under Clean Election law as a result of the RSLC expenditure, he has no intention of spending it. “This is all taxpayer money,” he said, “and is not coming from a Republican group from Virginia; and while [clean elections money] is intended to level the playing field, it is still taxpayer money.”
“I am deeply disappointed and outraged that Washington politics has made its way to Hancock County,” said Chairman of the Blue Hill Board of Selectmen John Bannister. “These are outright lies and twisting of facts,” he said. “Apparently this group does not know how small government works. The people make the decisions and the selectmen carry them out. Maybe they should do some more research.”
According to RSLC’s Temple, the group conducts opposition research and “monitors the votes” of many politicians. He said the mission of the RSLC is to “elect Republicans to office” and that its “track record in 2008 and 2009 is one of success.” When asked to explain discrepancies between information listed on the organization’s mailers and votes recorded in official minutes of Blue Hill selectmen’s meetings, Temple said he would welcome any contrary information for review.
The Senate District 28 race has drawn attention from inside Maine as well, with PAC support from Portland-based EqualityMaine, which has spent approximately $15,000 to support Jim Schatz and triggered $15,000 of clean elections funds for both Langley and Williams.