Latest ethics filing shows CMP spent $5M in first 3 months of 2020
NRCM news release
April 13, 2020 (Augusta, ME) — Central Maine Power (CMP) spent $5.045 million in the first three months of 2020 and a total of $7.23 million since October 2019 on its desperate campaign to protect massive future profits from a proposed 145-mile transmission line that would deliver electricity from Quebec to Massachusetts, including through 53 miles of western Maine forestlands. Polls show that the vast majority of Mainers are opposed to the proposal, and CMP has failed to demonstrate the project would result in an actual reduction of carbon pollution.
This astounding amount of political spending by Maine’s largest utility amounts to $55,448 per day from January through March, which compares to the average medium household income in Maine of $55,602.The government-owned Canadian energy giant Hydro-Quebec has spent $2.047 million as part of its coordinated effort with CMP to defend the project against a citizen initiative successfully brought forward by more than 66,000 Maine voters to stop the project. Total daily spending by the two companies combined over the report period was nearly $77,000.
Total spending by the two foreign-owned companies on the campaign now exceeds $9 million. (CMP is owned by Avangrid, a U.S. subsidiary of Spain-based Iberdrola.) With seven months until the November election, this spending frenzy is on track to be the most money ever spent to defeat a citizen initiative in Maine. Proponents of a casino in York County spent $9 million in 2017 in a failed effort to secure support for a casino. It was the most expensive referendum campaign in Maine history, but the out-of-state casino companies were defeated by opponents who spent just $723,198.
“At this rate, CMP and Hydro-Quebec could spend more than $20 million by November in their effort to sell Mainers a project they don’t want,” said Natural Resources Council of Maine Advocacy Director Pete Didisheim. “This level of spending is unprecedented, deeply troubling during the current coronavirus pandemic, and, frankly, obscene. Mainers should be outraged that CMP would spend this much money when the company still struggles to restore power outages and deliver accurate bills.”
CMP’s political campaign includes a vast network of out-of-state political consultants; misleading and simplistic television, print, and online advertising; and mobilization of lawyers and lobbyists trying to stop Mainers from voting on the project. The company has spent lavishly on polling, private investigators to stalk petition gatherers, opposition research, consultants that specialize in blocking citizen-initiated referenda, helicopter services, and even fine dining. The company’s political spending reports show:
- $5.139 million on TV and cable ads and $70,138 on digital ads
- $870,623 on direct mail and print ads
- $505,495 on polling and survey research
- $99,021 on a private detective firm, Merrill’s Investigations, to stalk Maine citizens who were gathering signatures
- $91,520 on campaign manager Jonathan Breed since October, already significantly more in six months than the annual salary of $70,000 for Maine’s governor
- $94,392 on an Oakland, California-based opposition research firm, VR Research
- $75,000 on an Arizona-based political firm, Signafide, whose sole purpose is to discredit signatures for citizen’s referenda
- $2,500 on helicopter services
- $2,077 on fine dining, including at David’s, Flood’s, Union, and Katahdin restaurants
CMP reported its stunning level of spending at 7:31 p.m. on April 10, 2020, at a time when more than 170,000 CMP customers were without power during an unprecedented pandemic, while telling its customers that it might take two days to restore power. Both CMP and Hydro-Quebec continue campaign spending during the pandemic, and placed five full-page ads in the Portland Press Herald alone on April 13th as Governor Janet Mills was announcing measures to protect Maine people from the coronavirus.
Records at the Maine Ethics Commission show that on April 8, 2020, CMP filed an amended January 15th report to make widespread amendments. The originally filed report showed that the PAC had spent no funds in the category of “Expenditures to Support or Oppose.” The amended report increased that number to $2,044,616.58.
Hydro-Quebec’s campaign spending has received sharp criticism in Maine. Because Hydro-Quebec is wholly owned by the Province of Quebec, the company’s campaign spending in Maine amounts to foreign interference in a Maine election. Legislative action on a bill to close the loophole in Maine law that is now being exploited by Hydro-Quebec, and the Province of Quebec, was suspended when the Maine Legislature abruptly adjourned in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Huge profits are at stake for these corporations, and investors in CMP’s parent company, Avangrid, recently expressed significant concerns that Maine people might defeat this project. Hydro-Quebec stands to make $12.4 billion on this project and CMP and its parent companies would earn $2 billion.
Twenty-five Maine towns have voted to rescind their support or oppose the CMP corridor. Polling last year showed that 65 percent of Mainers oppose the project, with opposition in Franklin and Somerset Counties exceeding 80 percent. Two of Maine’s largest labor unions oppose the project, and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine withdrew support.
In 2019, CMP was rated as having the worst customer service of any utility in the nation. CMP also received the largest fine that the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has ever levied against a utility. The $10 million fine was for CMP’s flagrant mishandling of its billing system and customer service. PUC staff stated at the time that: “The commission has not in recent history – and probably never before – seen complaints against a utility reach the numbers they have here, nor seen the kind of public skepticism of customers’ utility bills that has been raised against CMP in the last two years.” A detailed investigation by the Portland Press Herald found that CMP’s parent company, Avangrid, was so focused on pushing through the CMP power line that it wasn’t paying attention to the serious flaws in CMP’s billing system, which it downplayed.
CMP also has been criticized by the PUC for sending 1,000 threatening disconnect notices to customers this winter and faces a class-action lawsuit for these threats to terminate power.
Last fall, Hydro-Quebec admitted to breaking state ethics laws, for which it received a $35,000 fine, and the company has been criticized for misusing a photo of Baxter State Park.
The NO CMP Corridor PAC, a group of citizens opposed to the transmission line, has spent $23,727 according to its ethics filings.