Off Mic Blog: LePage Raising Funds for PAC Seeking to Influence Maine Legislative Races

Oct 14, 2016

Editor’s note: Off Mic is a blog about things you might have missed in Maine politics. It’s a place for those news tidbits that aren’t quite a story, or that were part of story but were hacked out by a thoughtless editor.


Leftovers from the notebook while wondering about the new branding possibilities for Tic Tacs...


Here’s a start:




As Mainers await the newly “unshackled” Donald Trump’s fourth campaign visit to Maine on Saturday, it seems like a good time consider whether Gov. Paul LePage has been an effective surrogate for the Republican presidential hopeful.


On the surface, the answer might seem like a resounding “no,” given the governor’s most recent vault into the national spotlight.


But is that assessment actually correct?


It’s true the governor’s walk-backed comments about Trump needing to show authoritarian power to quell a populace on the precipice of chaos helped feed a national narrative among his critics that Trump aspires to govern like an autocrat.


And that’s probably why LePage came out the next day to clarify -- sort of -- that, no, Trump wouldn’t restore order with an iron fist, but because of his “persona” and “stature” and his “authoritative” personality.


It’s not entirely clear how these qualities would actually tamp down the disorder purportedly gripping the country, but it probably doesn’t matter. LePage was able to trot out his Russian nesting dolls bearing the likeness of Hillary Clinton and women linked to her husband’s alleged infidelities.


He parroted Trump’s attacks against Clinton, playing off voters’ feelings about her dishonesty, her career in politics and so forth. He took shots at the Republicans who said they can’t support Trump, including U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.


He even asserted Clinton’s economic plans would explode the national debt, while claiming he had not seen independent analyses showing Trump’s tax plan would actually do more to increase it.


All of this might seem very damaging to Trump. But it’s probably only damaging if you still believe the TV personality and real estate mogul is actually trying to broaden his support. His latest response to additional sexual assault allegations -- even his own campaign -- suggest Trump is done with all that. Now the goal appears aimed at making sure his energetic supporters stay that way.

Early attempts to analyze Trump supporters found that some are drawn to an authoritarian figure. That suggests that some will be neither offended nor bothered by LePage’s slip-up.


They’ll also probably be drawn to a LePage comment that slipped under the radar: That this election is a battle between the “elites and the common man.”


Icing the Senate President?

Organizations and groups that can spend an unlimited amount to influence legislative races and conceal their donors have yet to overwhelm Mainers’ mailboxes and the airwaves with ads.


But they’re getting there. Groups have combined to spend close to $500,000 on legislative contests so far, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Maine Ethics Commission.


That’s slightly ahead of the spending clip to this point in 2014, but the final 20 days before an election are usually when groups and political action committees are the most active. There are some heavy hitters with decent war chests that have yet to seriously engage. And some groups like to spend late, for maximum impact; the most recent ad can often be the one a voter remembers before heading to the polls.


The so-called ICE PAC could be among those groups holding their powder. It’s the political action committee run by two former staffers for Gov. Paul LePage. And LePage acknowledged Wednesday that he’s fundraising for the PAC. He wouldn’t say which legislative candidates he intends to support or oppose. “That’s up to you to find out and me to know,” he said.


Well, we know that LePage’s ICE PAC hasn’t joined the Republican effort to protect Senate President Michael Thibodeau. Thibodeau has a difficult race ahead of him because he faces a rematch against Jonathan Fulford, who he narrowly defeated in 2014.


Outside groups have already spent more than $20,000 on the contest, targeting it more than a dozen times so far. That includes the Maine Republican Party and GOP-aligned PACs.


But not ICE PAC, not yet, and perhaps not ever. In fact, it would be more of a surprise if LePage’s PAC jumped in to assist his old ally.


And that’s because the governor’s relationship with the current Legislature is a lot like his with Thibodeau: Frosty. Or, better, icy.


Unity required

It was a small, but perhaps telling moment at the Bernie Sanders rally held last week in Bangor: Democratic organizers handing attendees Hillary Clinton signs as they entered the Cross Insurance Arena. And confiscating Sanders signs.


It happened several times as Sanders supporters attempted to enter the building. They were politely told, “No outside signs.” This was, after all, a unity event designed to convince Sanders' supporters and activists to unite behind Clinton.


There didn’t appear to be too much grumbling, which makes sense since those still stung by the plight of the vanquished Sanders probably didn’t bother to attend. Plus, Sanders supporters wearing “Bernie” T-shirts didn’t appear to suffer the indignity of having to remove them.