The purchase of television advertising ($41,000 worth, according to Ethan Strimling) by Maine People Before Politics (MPBP) in support of Governor LePage this week represents a troubling new chapter in Maine politics.
Never before has what is basically an unaccountable SuperPAC that is closely linked to a candidate and sitting officeholder made this kind of political play, and they’ve done so at an incredibly early date (19 months before the election).
MPBP is a 501(c)(4) organization. Traditionally, c4s were advocacy and social welfare organizations that had a limited ability to engage in candidate elections (the Maine People’s Alliance, for which I work, was founded as one of these c4 membership organizations). With recent Supreme Court rulings that stripped away restrictions on political action, however, some c4s have come to be used as a way to influence elections while shielding donors from having to disclose their spending. Karl Rove’s c4 organization Crossroads GPS spent nearly as much as his traditional (and slightly more transparent) SuperPAC during the last election.
Comedian Stephen Colbert recently brought some much-needed light to this dark money issue when he created a SuperPAC and linked c4 organization live on his show during the last election.
“Clearly, these c4s have created an unprecedented, unaccountable, untraceable cash tsunami that will infect every corner of the next election,” said Colbert. “And I feel like an idiot for not having one.”
But what’s going on with MPBP is even shadier than these national groups. The organization is closely aligned with the political agenda and personal aggrandizement of one politician, Governor LePage, and whatever individual and corporate donors are funding the group could be doing so in order to buy influence with the Governor.
The decision-maker for MPBP appears to be LePage’s campaign political strategist Brent Littlefield. His name has been removed from the group’s website “About” and “Contact Us” pages, but older versions of the site cached by Google list him as its “strategic advisor.” His profile still exists on the site and can be accessed through search engines.
Jason Savage, a LePage campaign staffer who formerly worked at MPBP, left the group to become executive director of the Maine Republican Party when LePage’s allies took over the Party apparatus earlier this year.
This sharing of personnel is troubling, but the links to LePage go even deeper. According to the Maine Bureau of Corporations, Maine People Before Politics was formerly known as “LePage Transition 2010.” That’s right, they didn’t even bother to transfer the transition money they received to a new account, they just changed the name of the c4.
Interestingly, this fact gives us a small window into who has funded the group. Because the LePage transition listed its donors (although not the amounts they gave) we know some of the companies and individuals whose money ended up in MPBP’s accounts.
The results aren’t pretty. Among the contributors are insurance companies, chemical firms, corporate polluters and dozens of companies whose business interests would be served by buying influence with the governor.
Donors include BP (which gave twice from two different subsidiaries), Anthem Insurance and pharmaceutical giant Astra Zeneca. Some of the companies would seem to have no interest at all in Maine except for their legislative agenda. iGPS Company, LLC, for instance, is seeking to stop Maine’s Kid-Safe Products law and donor Mallinckrodt is a legal entity created to fight the cleanup of the mercury-contaminated site of the former Holtrachem plant on the Penobscot River.
Also on the list: The Maine Hospital Association.
It is unknown how much of the money from these companies is funding the current activities of MPBP, just as we don’t know the identities of other donors that may have given since the name change. The amount of money being spent this early before an election by a group so closely linked to the Governor, however, is deeply troubling and represents a new low for transparency in Maine politics and government.