Races get rough as outside money pours in

A forest of campaign signs is in full bloom on Bridge Hill in Ellsworth. PHOTO BY TAYLOR VORTHERMS
A forest of campaign signs is in full bloom on Bridge Hill in Ellsworth. PHOTO BY TAYLOR VORTHERMS

ELLSWORTH — Maybe you’ve seen the mailer — the one with the photo of a cute child that said protecting such children “from toxic chemicals seems like a simple choice.”

Below that is a photo of state Sen. Brian Langley (R-Hancock County) and the caption in capital letters: “Not for Senator Brian Langley.”

That mailer came from the Maine Democratic Party. Another group, Prevent Harm, has put out press releases and information on its website sounding a similar note, calling Langley’s record on the environment “abysmal.”

Though he rejects the charges, Langley said he doesn’t take the attacks personally.

“It’s not about me personally,” he said. “It’s all about metrics.”

Langley said because the district is seen as politically competitive, a lot of effort — see: money — is being put in to trying to win the seat. He is being challenged by Democrat Ted Koffman of Bar Harbor, a former state legislator.

At a candidates forum on Monday night in Ellsworth, Langley said $124,000 has been spent on this race so far by various groups “with more in the next two weeks.”

“I’m very worried about the future of elections in this state,” Langley told the audience Monday night. He said he previously ran three times as a Clean Election candidate, but felt he couldn’t afford to do so this year because of the money he knew would likely be spent on the race.

Though he is on the receiving end of the attacks in this campaign, Langley has seen it from both ends. In 2010, an outside group called the Republican State Leadership Committee based in Virginia spent a reported $70,000 to attack Langley’s opponent that year, Blue Hill Selectman Jim Schatz.

The mailers essentially called Schatz un-American for a vote on fireworks in Blue Hill, though it misrepresented how he had voted. Langley said he decried those mailers as soon as they came out.

Langley’s opponent this year, Koffman, said he is “very disappointed” with how much money is being spent in the race this year.

“I find it troublesome,” he said.

On the nature of some of the mailings and other materials, Koffman said it is acceptable to make an issue of a candidate’s voting record. He said such criticisms can sometimes be over the top, however.

Asked if the mailings against Langley — which to be clear, did not come from Koffman’s campaign — crossed such a line, he said “one could argue that it does.”

“There’s a proportionality issue,” he said. “If you’ve voted against a bill that is designed to protect children, that’s what should be revealed. You don’t have to call someone a murderer to do it.”

Though Koffman didn’t reference it by name or number, the bill in question was LD 1181, “An Act To Further Strengthen the Protection of Pregnant Women and Children from Toxic Chemicals.” The House passed the bill in the summer of 2013, but when Governor Paul LePage vetoed the bill the Senate failed to override the veto.

Langley was one of the 14 Republican senators who voted against overriding the veto. He said he is not opposed to protecting peoples health but said LD 1181 was “not a good bill.”

Opponents see it differently. Mike Belliveau, president of Prevent Harm, said Langley’s voting record “should make Dow Chemical proud.”

Langley cited two other votes he cast in favor of increased regulations on bisphenol A, the chemical of greatest concern to bill supporters. Belliveau, however, said those two bills passed the Legislature unanimously and were easy votes.

“When his vote really counted, he did not stand with Maine families,” said Belliveau of Langley.

The mailer from the Democratic Party also focused on Langley’s vote on LD 1181.

Sharing the concern about the proliferation of money in campaigns is Ann Luther, a Trenton resident who is advocacy director for the League of Women Voters of Maine.

“It’s just too much money,” she said, adding that money tends to come from donors with deep pockets and that as a result public policy tends to skew in their favor.

She advocates for a return to a strong Clean Election system, and said if it were strengthened candidates could tell parties and other surrogates to stay out of their race.

“That would be a courageously strong thing to do,” Luther said.

Right now, however, she said candidates such as Langley and Koffman can’t really afford to run as Clean Election candidates because to do so would leave them with few resources to fight off outside attacks.

She said a campaign is under way to get a citizens’ initiative question on the Maine ballot in 2015 that would strengthen Maine’s Clean Elections law, part of which was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011.

That decision, combined with the Citizens United ruling a year earlier, “has allowed spending to go through the roof,” Luther said.

Steve Fuller

Steve Fuller

Reporter at The Ellsworth American,
Steve Fuller worked at The Ellsworth American from 2012 to early 2018. He covered the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. A native of Waldo County, he served as editor of Belfast's Republican Journal prior to joining the American. He lives in Orland.
Steve Fuller

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