By now Maine voters are probably numb to the millions of dollars that supporters and opponents of Central Maine Power’s transmission corridor have spent on the upcoming referendum aimed at derailing the project.
How the money has been spent might be more intriguing.
So far, political action committees have spent more than $15 million, more than $10 million coming from CMP’s Clean Energy Matters political action committee, which was formed in 2019 to fight a ballot initiative that was ultimately scuttled by the Maine law court. Like the previous referendum, CMP’s PAC is spending big on television ads -- roughly $5 million this year.
It also spent nearly $4 million on “professional services,” a broad category designed to capture spending on everything from web design to political consulting.
That includes $39,000 last quarter for “political strategy services'' provided by James Mitchell, who is also one of CMP’s primary lobbyists at the state house. Mitchell is often described as a Democratic lobbyist because he was once chairman of the Maine Democratic Party. CMP’s PAC is also paying other Democatic consultants, including Jonathan Breed, who ran Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden’s campaign in 2018. However, the PAC is also paying Republican-affiliated consultants, including Tim Walton, of Walton External Affairs, who once lobbied for Hydro-Quebec.
The Canadian energy company has spent $3 million this year pushing the project and is likely to commit more after Gov. Janet Mills vetoed a bill that would have prohibited referendum spending by companies owned by foreign governments.
CMP’s PAC also paid Patriot Consulting $20,000 for “grassroots town hall services.” Patriot Consulting is run by Zach Lingley, a Republican lobbyist and consultant who recently helped launch state Sen. Trey Stewart’s, R-Presque Isle, nascent bid to unseat Congressman Golden next year.
Stewart this week jousted on the Senate floor with CMP critic Republican state Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, over a joint order that could influence a legal dispute over a corridor lease agreement between the state and CMP (Stewart claimed during the debate that he doesn’t like CMP, but opposed the “precedent” of joint order).
CMP also paid $26,000 to a consulting firm of mysterious origin. It’s called Saddleback Strategy Group, which has a limited web presence and apparently no physical location (it lists an address at the Mailing Center in Augusta). A corporation search of Secretary of State listings shows only the registering agent, not the owner.
Chris Glynn, a spokesman for CMP’s PAC, told Maine Public Thursday that Saddleback is run by Joe Turcotte, a former Republican operative who recently announced that he’s the campaign manager for LePage’s reelection bid. He also runs Turcotte Consulting & Creative Strategies, a political consulting firm.
CMP’s efforts are being challenged on several fronts, but it’s primary rival, at least in terms of spending, is the ironically named PAC Mainers for Local Power, which has spent nearly $3 million this year. The group is primarily financed by Calpine and Vistra, two Texas-based natural gas companies that own plants in Maine, and Florida-based NextEra Energy, which owns an array of fossil-fuel electricity generators and renewable sources.
Like CMP, Mainers for Local Power is spending heavily on national and local consulting firms, including $200,000 last quarter that went to Frame Media Strategies. The firm has been used by the Maine Democratic Party and produced an ad last year that attacked ... drumroll ... Sen. Stewart during his bid for the state Senate.
Mainers for Local Power also spent $15,000 last quarter for the services of “bi-partisan government affairs advocates” Fredette Dion LLC, which is operated by former Democratic state Sen. Mark Dion and former Republican House minority leader Ken Fredette.
There are other consultants involved in the corridor fight, but some are trying to remain anonymous. Another anti-corridor group, Stop the Corridor, is fighting an investigation by the Maine Ethics Commission to determine if the group should file as a political action committee and reveal its funding sources. The group is contesting the commission’s effort to subpoena it’s records and so far it’s been able to shield the identity of a consulting firm that it’s hired.