A Bath Iron Works employee signs a petition to put a citizen initiative on Central Maine Power's New England Clean Energy Connect project on the ballot for the November 2020 elections outside the Bath Iron Works in this Nov. 15, 2019, file photo. The campaign to stop CMP's proposed corridor is heating up, with both sides trying to paint the other as unethical.

Good morning from Augusta. Don’t forget that daylight saving time starts this Sunday. If you’ve got something important to do, be sure to set your clocks the night before. Here’s your soundtrack.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “If you say, ‘Yeah, there was sexism in this race,’ everyone says, ‘Whiner!’” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said as she bowed out of the presidential race during a press conference at her home, on the “trap question” of gender in the race. “And if you say, ‘No, there was no sexism,’ about a bazillion women think, ‘What planet do you live on?’”

What we’re watching today

Clean Energy Matters called it “standard operating procedure” for a campaign. Say No to NECEC called it “stalking.” No matter how you look at it, the methods Central Maine Power’s political action committee used to research whether opposition efforts to the utility’s proposed $1 billion powerline project were violating state signature-gathering laws touched off a new era in an already contentious campaign.

It represents a shift in tone for a campaign that has mostly focused on CMP’s reputation and whether the corridor would be “right” for Maine. Jon Breed, director of Clean Energy Matters, characterized the actions as symptomatic of larger, ethical problems within the anti-corridor campaign. PAC lawyer Newell Auger told Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap that they began looking into opponent activities after learning a generator-funded group opposing the corridor hired out-of-state firm Revolution Field Strategies to collect signatures. Sandi Howard of Say No to NECEC called those activities — including having a private investigator observe a field office in Portland and looking into a woman’s social media accounts — a “horrifying new low” in politics.

While it’s unclear what will happen with Clean Energy Matter’s latest allegations, two prior ethics complaints against anti-corridor groups will be heard next week. They concern whether two groups, Stop the Corridor and Say No to NECEC, should be required to register as political committees — and thereby forced to reveal their donors.

Stop the Corridor, which has spent $1.3 million on TV and Facebook ads opposing the corridor, is a 501(c)(4) “dark money” group, which means it is allowed to advocate about political issues without revealing its donors so long as politics are not its primary purpose. But Clean Energy Matters alleges that politics are the group’s primary purpose, which would mean it would have to register as a political committee or a ballot question committee. Both are required to file regular campaign finance reports.

Clean Energy Matters also asked the commission to investigate whether Say No to NECEC should also be required to register as a political action committee. If the commission determines that either group must register as a committee, they will be required to file reports disclosing sources of funding. 

If either group violated campaign finance laws, they would not be the first. One pro-corridor group, a committee affiliated with the Canadian energy company Hydro-Quebec, was fined nearly $35,000 in January after spending to support the corridor prior to registering as a committee.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Maine tests more residents for COVID-19, with ‘every reason to believe’ it will come here,” Charles Eichacker, BDN: “The state is in the process of testing about a dozen new individuals for the COVID-19 virus, while hospitals have been isolating patients who show flu-like symptoms associated with the infection. Schools have been taking extra precautions such as cleaning buses after every use, and health officials have been urging people to thoroughly wash their hands and cover their mouths when they cough.”

— “Maine regulators reject Canadian company’s plan to buy Emera Maine,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “The Maine Public Utilities Commission on Thursday voted 2 to 1 against a Canadian company’s proposal to buy Emera Maine, citing concerns about risks to ratepayers, including whether it is able to pay for needed system upgrades.”

— “New poll shows gains for Sara Gideon in tight Senate race against Susan Collins,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “A poll released on Thursday by Public Policy Polling shows Maine Sen. Susan Collins in a tight race to keep her U.S. Senate seat, while giving a slight edge to her leading Democratic rival, Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, though the result is still within the margin of error.”

Democrats to caucus on Sunday

In addition to springing forward, the Maine Democratic Party is hoping you’ll show up to your local caucus location this weekend. Even though the primary is past, parties in the state still caucus to choose delegates to represent them in state conventions. Those delegates then head to national conventions to choose nominees in presidential years. Republicans have been caucusing throughout February, but Democrats will only do it once. You can check in early on the party’s website. 

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper and Caitlin Andrews. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email clumm@bangordailynews.com (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.