PORTLAND, Maine — Political committees spent a collective $1.2 million on the campaign for expanding the state’s publicly financed election system, battling vocal but frugal opposition.

A group working to defeat the measure spent just more than $44,000.

The battle over proposed changes to Maine’s public campaign financing system was the most hotly contested of three state ballot questions for outside expenditures to either support or oppose the measure.

A collection of groups, led by the ballot committee Mainers for Accountable Elections, came together to support passage of the public campaign funding expansion that will reopen the state’s gubernatorial race to public financing, triple the amounts House and Senate candidates can receive and set stricter penalties for campaign violations.

Opposition spending came from one group, Mainers Against Welfare for Politicians, which spent about 2.5 percent the amount supporters put into the race, according to state campaign finance records accessed Thursday.

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Supporters spent about equally on staff to spearhead the campaign and on television and video ads. Opponents spent most heavily on radio ads and automated phone calls to voters.

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The outside spending totals do not include any operating expenses of the ballot question committees, which could include payment for staff time and other expenses that are not reportable as advocacy activities.

That includes convening forums on a topic, as long as conveners “make reasonable efforts to ensure that the forum is balanced,” and conducting research, analysis into a specific issue that does not express specific support for an issue or distributing news stories, commentary or editorials.

The groups spending to support the question reported a collective $484,497 in operating expenses for the period, most of which for the group that supported the citizen referendum that created the state’s election financing system in 1996, Maine Citizens for Clean Elections.

Mainers Against Welfare for Politicians did not report any operating expenses for the period.

While not spending much in the race, opposition groups had Gov. Paul LePage, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and some lawmakers in their corner. LePage echoed the term “welfare for politicians” in describing the question.

The Maine State Chamber had objected to how the question would be funded, by eliminating “low-performing, unaccountable” corporate tax breaks as identified by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability.

Darren Fishell

Darren is a Portland-based reporter for the Bangor Daily News writing about the Maine economy and business. He's interested in putting economic data in context and finding the stories behind the numbers.