AUGUSTA, Maine — A group associated with the legislative campaign arm of national Democrats that played heavily in Maine House of Representatives elections this year was fined $10,000 by ethics regulators on Wednesday for ads that did not disclose top donors.
The penalty is a major one for the Maine Ethics Commission and is among the first for a violation of a campaign finance law passed by voters in 2015 that requires political groups to disclose their top three funders in written material and video advertisements.
The Maine offshoot of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee spent $394,000 to support and oppose House candidates, making it the second-largest single spender in legislative races in 2022. The party held its majorities in both legislative chambers in part due to a wave of outside spending that outpaced Republicans nearly 3 to 1.
At least $346,000 in mail and digital advertisements did not contain the required disclosures, with the group choosing to say it had “no top donors.” Lawyers for the group said it used that language because the money was originally donated to support national Democrats and not ones in Maine specifically.
The group eventually disclosed the top three funders of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. That group included national labor unions representing public employees and teachers, but commissioners unanimously found that the lack of disclosures violated state law.
“I think putting out hundreds, if not thousands of print and digital materials that say ‘no top donor’ screams against the intent of everything we’re about,” Commissioner Dennis Marble, an independent from Hampden, said.
Many of the group’s form mailers hammered Republican House candidates on the hot topic of abortion, telling voters that those candidates were “backed by dangerous extremists” on that issue. Other ads used the same formulation to hit candidates on drinking water protections.
Those targeted included former state Sen. Linda Baker of Topsham, who has a mixed legislative record on abortion but replied to a Bangor Daily News survey by saying there should be no changes in abortion laws. She lost to Rep.-elect Rebecca Jauch, D-Topsham.
The Democratic group got another fine of nearly $700 for a late campaign finance report. Other groups were facing potential fines for late disclosures during the 2022 campaign, including one run by incoming House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, and the abortion-rights political arm of Planned Parenthood in Maine.