The Democratic dark money empire

So let me get this straight. We just lived through a special election in the Maine Senate that saw all three candidates running on taxpayer funded “clean election” funds, yes?

The rationale for having taxpayers fund political campaigns in the first place was to get dirty, evil money out of politics, right?  That is what the Democrats, who desperately want to expand the system because they hate money in politics so much, keep telling us.

I wonder, then, how roughly $200,000 dollars got spent in just six weeks between all the candidates and outside groups.  Particularly since most of that money was not spent by the candidates themselves, but by third party groups.

Mission accomplished, public financing, mission accomplished.

Looking at this race, it turns out that Democrats do indeed have an intense hatred of money in politics. Unless, of course, it is their money, and they are the ones collecting and spending it.

Enter the special election in Sagadahoc County’s Senate District 19. While both the right and the left spent big dollars on the race, it was the supporters of Democrat Eloise Vitelli that had the benefit of an avalanche of dark money spent on behalf of their candidate.

Outside groups spent a total of $156,252.77 in this election. Of that, $96,109.80, or 62 percent of all independent expenditures, was spent on behalf of Eloise Vitelli. Nearly one-third of that amount was spent on negative campaigning against her opponent, Republican Paula Benoit.

The Holy Trinity of Democratic interests who spent money on this race include the Maine Democratic State Committee, which spent $78,171.62, the Maine People’s Alliance, which spent $17,105.68, and the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, which spent $832.50.

Right leaning groups spent, by comparison, only $60,142.97. Nearly all, $55,133.67 of that total, was spent by the Maine Republican Party. This is not the first time the Democrats have leveraged a significant financial advantage to out-organize the Republicans and muscle out wins in districts they should naturally lose.

Have you ever heard of The Committee to Rebuild Maine’s Middle Class?

Of course you haven’t. Filed in July of 2012, this left-wing Political Action Committee has attracted virtually no attention from a lethargic Maine press, yet in the 2012 campaign, they spent $758,401.23 in independent expenditures in legislative races, $561,081.52 of which was devoted to destroying Republican candidates.

A group whose sole purpose was to provide a vehicle for left-wing groups to funnel money into in order to spend big in an attempt to regain power in Augusta, they were the biggest non-party actor in the 2012 legislative elections. By far.

For a great example of how this impacts races, take a look at the 2012 race between Democrat John Cleveland and Republican Lois A. Snowe-Mello.

Outside groups spent a staggering $143,230.73 to oppose Snowe-Mello, compared to only $22,909.21 spent to oppose Cleveland. The Committee to Rebuild Maine’s Middle Class was responsible for nearly $70,000 of the total spent against Snowe-Mello, which is three times the total amount of money spent by all groups against her opponent.

The result? Cleveland won what has been a perennial toss-up district by 1400 votes.

In 2012, seat after seat was decided by less than 100 votes, and superior resources coupled with superior tactics meant that the Republicans didn’t have a prayer.

Now, far be it from me to complain about money in politics. I do not consider it to be an evil thing, and my biggest problem with this financial disparity is that the Republicans don’t seem to know how to compete with the Democratic money machine. That is on them.

Of course, winning the campaign finance game is made easier when you have a billionaire political sugar daddy by the name of Donald Sussman funneling money to liberal causes, organizations and candidates. But I digress.

Even if they were to be on equal financial footing, there are deep problems on the right that would still put them at a disadvantage. Conservative campaign culture is full of consultants who show no value for their price tag, and spend more time smoking cigars and playing golf than understanding how to win a political knife fight with an opponent that takes politics seriously and is all about testing, analytics and data.

It is time for Republicans to treat politics like they treat business. Demand accountability, demand efficiency, demand return on investment, demand quality work. Demand a full accounting and justification of money spent.

Most importantly, demand an end to the campaign cronyism built on ineffective politics practiced by antiquated good ol’ boys, and start building a real, effective campaign machine. The Democrats did it, and we should be better than them at this.

In the meantime, though, we can at least stop letting Maine Democrats get away with pretending to be disgusted with money in politics, only to be the kings and queens of cash.

They love money, so long as they’re the ones spending it.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.