Maine political fundraising in full bloom

We are taking a look at Maine political fundraising, finding out about all the fundraising parties and then telling you about them.
A scattered stack of $100 dollar bills with the image of Benjamin Franklin visible
Photo by Sergey Kuzmin/Shutterstock.

Here at Political Party Time, we took a break from chronicling campaign shindigs when the 2014 election season ended.

But we’re back now, dressed up in our best party clothes and working harder than ever so that you don’t miss any of the fun. And there’s lots of wine, beer, cheese and crackers to be had, as the political fundraising season shifts into high gear.

Politics and money graphic illustration
Illustration: David Carrilet, Shutterstock

We don’t actually go to any of the fundraisers that we write about. It would be unethical for us as non-partisan journalists to pay — er, contribute — money to political candidates, their parties or their PACs.

Nope — our job is to find out about all the political fundraising parties and then tell you about them.

That’s so you can understand how important money is in our political system. We’re not talking pocket change: the political class wants you to pay some serious money these days for the privilege of hobnobbing with them.

These events aren’t just about financial support for candidates, PACs or political parties. They’re also about having your voice made louder than the average voter through your donation. You get access to powerful people — or potentially powerful people — by going to these events. And they remember your generosity once they’re elected. No wonder politicians send these invitations to lots of lobbyists.

First, the Republican events:

Want to play golf with a lot of Republican senators and would-be senators? Pay $10,000 to the “Maine Senate Republican Majority” PAC and you can be a “Hole In One Sponsor” at the 2016 Senate Republican Golf Classic.

If you want to go to the event at Martindale Country Club in Auburn but you’re not feeling flush, you can be a plain “Hole Sponsor” for $500, and if you can’t scratch up that kind of money, you can pay $250 to be a “Tee Sponsor.”

It costs just half as much to sponsor the House version of the Senate GOP golf fundraiser — we’ll call it the People’s Golf Tournament, in keeping with the fact that there are so many House members, unlike the small, rarified Senate. It’s $5,000, tops, to be an “Eagle Sponsor” (that’s both a patriotic and a golf term, how convenient!) for that event at South Portland’s Sable Oaks course.

You can also pay just $100 to be a “Hole Sponsor.” Sponsoring a hole isn’t sponsoring nothingness: If you’re a lobbyist, that little hole sponsorship could well get your telephone call answered by a harried legislator during the heat of the session. We note this from the email introduction to the invitation: “If there is a legislator that you would like to play with, please make that request in your RSVP.” Puts a new meaning to the term “play.”

And if you weren’t up for an entire golf game, you could have still gotten some time among the blackflies by attending the May 16th “Upta Camp with Good Food & S’more Conversation” party. Sounds rustic, but it’s not. The photo on the invite shows the big yellow house, huge deck, manicured lawn and carefully mulched garden that belongs to Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau’s family on Half Moon Pond in Searsport.

That’ll cost you $3,000 tops, made out to the “Senate Republican President’s Fund.”

You could, of course, rent a lakeside camp for a week with your family for that kind of money and not have to talk to politicians.

Fundraiser invitation for Rep. Brian Langley, R-Corinth
Fundraiser invitation for Rep. Brian Langley, R-Corinth.

If you’re a beer lover, you could have supported the re-election campaign of Brian Langley, a Republican senator who represents much of Hancock County, by attending the “Cooking with Beer, Brian and Birdie” fundraiser hosted June 1 by Langley’s senate GOP colleague, Roger Katz, and his wife.

You’d slake more than thirst at that event: The menu includes “potted beer cheese dip with pita chips,” “pear and walnut salad with wheat beer vinaigrette,” “beer and brown sugar marinated roast ribeye with beer braised onions and oven roasted root vegetables.”

A joint fundraiser in May held to benefit the PACs of Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason and Rep. Jeff Timberlake, both Republicans, took place in Ricker Hill Orchard’s tasting room in Turner. That’s where the orchard serves its “Mainiac Hard Cider.” The invitation doesn’t list ticket prices — it just tells how to make out the check and where to send it. Because the state has no limits on contributions to PACs, you could write a check for $100,000. Just saying. It’s been done before.

Now, onto the Democratic side:

Mark Dion, a House member running for the Senate in the Portland area, had a redundantly named “fundraiser event” hosted last month by the “Committee to Elect Mark Dion as the Democratic Candidate for the Maine State Senate.” (Dion is running in the Democratic primary against two other candidates.) Again, no price on the tickets, but “donations welcomed.”

Invitation to House Democratic Caucus fundraiser.
Invitation to House Democratic Caucus fundraiser.

And if you wondered whether the close connection between some lobbyists and some politicians was for real or just the product of the suspicious minds of political reporters, the other Dion “fundraiser and reception” invitation was hosted by a handful of the most powerful lobbyists in the state: law firm Preti Flaherty’s energy lobbyist Antony Buxton as well as business-and-everything-else lobbyists Severin Beliveau, Dan Walker, Steve Hudson and Harold Pachios. Many of the lobbyist hosts represent industries whose interests intersect with the legislative committee co-chaired by Dion, the Energy, Utilities and Technology committee. (Disclosure: Beliveau is a donor to the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting.)

You can conveniently curry favor with an entire party by supporting PACs run by party leaders. On the Democratic side, those groups are the House Democratic Campaign Committee and the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee. And this spring’s Democratic Party collective fundraisers appear to have been coordinated to maximize turnout.

We believe this because party leaders scheduled the “House Summer Reception” for 5-6:30 pm on June 6 and the Senate “End-of-Session Fundraiser” for 6:30-8 pm the same day. In just a jiffy, you could support the Democratic Party’s candidates by zipping from one fundraiser to another. Google Maps says it would only take 15 minutes by car.

It doesn’t look like you can get the two events for the price of one, however. The House Democratic Campaign Committee party invitation requests $3,000 for the privilege of being a “Host.” If you just want to be a “Friend,” that’ll be $500. As for the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, the top category is “Sponsor” at the higher price of $5,000, while you can also be a relatively proletarian “Friend” for $500.

Senator Dawn Hill, D-York.
Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York.

In case you were tied up on June 6, Senate Assistant Democratic Leader Dawn Hill is also holding a fundraiser for the Senate Democratic caucus PAC on June 14. MJ’s Wine Bar at 1 City Center in Portland is where the party’s happening — the same building that is home to powerful law-and-lobbying-firm Preti-Flaherty, some of whose lobbyist-lawyers are hosting the fundraiser for Dion.

Sen. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, who’s running for re-election, held a “campaign reception” at the Kerrymen Pub in Saco. Hobbins was there as host and donor, since he’s his own biggest source of cash, loaning the campaign almost $17,500 out of a total of $23,050 for the June 14 primary.

Hobbins is one of a number of candidates this year who have switched from their previous practice of financing their campaigns with public funds under Maine Clean Elections and are now running by raising money privately. Others are Democratic House members Sara Gideon, Diane Russell, Jared Golden and Craig Hickman and Republican House members Beth Turner and Dustin Michael White.

And finally, here’s a cool trick that allows publicly funded “Clean Elections” candidates, who forswear the corrupting influence of large campaign donations, to fundraise from heavy hitters nonetheless: They raise money for one of their party’s PACs.

So Democratic Senate candidate Troy Jackson is the featured candidate at “An Evening of Bowling” to raise money for the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, an event held at Sparetime Recreation in Hallowell.

This Clean Elections candidate is asking you to pay as much as $2,500 for the privilege of throwing some strikes. At those prices, consider wearing your mink-lined bowling shoes.

Candidate Erin Herbig, a sitting House member from Belfast who’s running for re-election with public funds as a Clean Elections candidate, has sent an invitation via email whose subject line reads, in part: “Invitation – Rep. Erin Herbig Reception to Benefit House Democrats.”

“Dear Friends, Supporters and Colleagues,” writes Herbig. “In recognition of the very important work of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, I am having a reception at Joyce’s Restaurant, 192 Water Street in Hallowell, on Thursday, June 30 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Please consider supporting the event at one of the following levels: Sponsor – $2500, Host – $1000, Supporter – $500, Friend – $250.”

House Democratic Campaign Committee donation page.

The contribution page for the event is a link to ActBlue, which describes itself as “A PAC allowing individuals and groups to channel their progressive dollars to candidates and movements of their choosing.” It looks like this:

With ActBlue’s profile of the candidate — “….Rep. Erin Herbig, from Belfast, comes from a family of poultry farmers who have been in Waldo County for five generations….” — and phrasing like “Your contribution will help Erin and House Democrats,” perhaps you, Mr. or Ms. Donor, would be forgiven for thinking you were supporting Rep. Herbig if you paid to attend this event.


Naomi Schalit

Naomi Schalit is a co-founder of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, which operates The Maine Monitor.
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