Campaigns promoting passage of Maine’s five citizen-initiated ballot questions are largely getting their money from outside the state, a dynamic at least one opposition group has criticized.

The Employment Policies Institute, tied to the D.C. lobbying firm Berman & Co., raised that concern about advocates for raising the minimum wage in Maine.

But the campaign supporting a $12 statewide minimum wage is hardly the only group of ballot question proponents getting the bulk of their cash from outside Maine.

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The Bangor Daily News confirmed the Employment Policies Institute’s analysis of campaign finance data through September, which showed groups supporting the minimum wage hike received more than 65 percent of all contributions from out-of-state donors, at least.

That’s typical of all ballot question groups, except for supporters of Question 5, which seeks to implement ranked-choice voting, who so far have gotten closer to half of contributions from in-state donors.

Mike Tipping, a spokesman for the Mainers for Fair Wages campaign backing the minimum wage increase, said he objected to the analysis because much in-state money came through groups that themselves raised money from in Maine, including the Restaurant Opportunity Center and the Fairness Project.

“We’ve had 1,000 volunteers and 7,542 individual donors as of our last report,” Tipping said.

Supporters of legalizing marijuana in the state have received almost all of their cash from out-of-state groups and a proposal to levy a new 3 percent tax on incomes over $200,000 in order to increase aid to Maine’s public school system has gotten more than 60 percent of its money from groups outside Maine.

And that’s likely overstating how much of the money actually came from Maine, as we did not weed out transfers between ballot question groups and political action groups that may appear as in-state contributions.

For instance, if a political action group gets a $500,000 donation from an out-of-state nonprofit and then funnels that to an affiliated ballot question committee, that out-of-state money may show up as in-state.

In the minimum wage case, the Mainers for Fair Wages ballot question group did hand off about $138,000 to the related political action committee in June.

Those kinds of transfers also may inflate the total amount donated to a campaign, duplicating that amount on the filings of another related group.

In another way, the reports may understate contributions from individual donors, as small contributions are not itemized by contributor or their state.

But the problem isn’t just limited to those situations, as the question of origin raises its head again with that initial nonprofit cash. In many cases, the chain of title to those dollars stops at the names of those nonprofits.

In others, it’s difficult to say just how to assign a state to a specific dollar. If a donor from Texas gives $1 and a donor in Michigan gives $2 to a PAC based in D.C., how do you assign states to a $2 donation to a PAC in Maine? Was it just the Michigan money or did that Texas dollar make its way here.

In any case, the representation above, and the Employment Policies Institute analysis, are more closely a representation of where a batch of money was immediately before it landed in the hands of a Maine ballot question committee or political action committee.

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.