Liberals pour dark money into Hancock County

State Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth. BDN photo by Troy R. Bennett.

State Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth. BDN photo by Troy R. Bennett.

As we have seen already this year, the moral dedication of liberals to campaign finance reform has a flimsy foundation. Though they’re eager to espouse its virtues, they know it has little chance of passing. As with so many other nominal positions, it’s a low-risk, high-reward stance to take, since they can shore up their liberal base while continuing to employee questionable tactics.

There is no shortage of this hypocrisy evident in Maine, where yet again, the Democrats have created political front groups with reassuring names to hide the source of their funding. In 2012, the biggest offender was the Committee to Rebuild Maine’s Middle Class, a union front that has been reactivated for this year. In recent days, though, we have seen a new player emerge. So far, they’re even more mysterious, and questionable in strategy, than similar groups.

The organization in question, the Prevent Harm Action Fund, is unique in several respects. Unlike most of these groups, which spread small sums around to a wide variety of targeted races, Prevent Harm’s efforts are extremely focused. So far, the fund has only spent money on the gubernatorial race, in opposition to Paul LePage, and on one legislative race: Senate District 7, which consists of most of Hancock County.

In District 7, incumbent Brian Langley is seeking another term. First elected to the Senate in 2010, Langley is a hard-working, well regarded moderate. This is best illustrated in an analysis done by the Sunlight Foundation, which ranked the effectiveness and partisanship of every state legislator in the country and named Langley among Maine’s most effective senators. The Ellsworth Republican also received high marks on the environment from Maine Conservation Voters — indeed, the highest of any Senate Republican. He is opposed this year by Democrat Ted Koffman, a former state representative who recently retired as the executive director of the Maine Audubon Society.

Besides its obsession with District 7, Prevent Harm is also especially opaque in its funding. The only report it filed to date shows Prevent Harm raised $19,000. Of this, $16,194.35 — or approximately 85 percent of the total — came in the form of a “General Treasury Transfer” from another organization. The report does not say what the organization was, but it likely was the Environmental Health Strategy Center, a 501(c)3 with whom Prevent Harm shares an address and staff. In addition, the chair of Prevent Harm, former Speaker of the House Hannah Pingree (daughter of 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree) is also on the board of the EHSC.

Thus, it appears that the EHSC, a federally recognized non-profit with tax-exempt status, is sending money directly to a state-level political action committee. This effectively obscures the source of the money, of course, while simultaneously avoiding laws on donation limits.

Where does the Environmental Health Strategy Center get its money? We just have no idea.

Regardless of the specifics, the level of hypocrisy here is stunning — not only on the part of Democrats generally but individuals as well. Back in August, Maine Citizens for Clean Elections was highlighting individuals who supported campaign finance reform. One of them was Emma Halas-O’Connor who, while complaining about big money in politics, was serving as coalition and grassroots advocacy coordinator for the Environmental Health Strategy Center.

Maine deserves better than this. It’s high time we have real transparency in our campaign finance laws that stop these backdoor donations from nonprofits. This effort not only makes it impossible for us to see where the money’s coming from, it’s a deliberate, nasty attempt to defeat a legislator who’s actually trying to work with both sides of the aisle in a constructive way and get things done. We need to support people like Langley in Augusta — not undermine them for failing some litmus test.

Jim Fossel

About Jim Fossel

Originally from Alna, Jim Fossel has volunteered with a number of campaigns over the years, including for Peter Mills for Governor in 2006. He previously worked for U.S. Senator Susan Collins and House Republican Leader Josh Tardy.