Spending hits $61,915 per day over the past 271 days
NRCM news release
July 7, 2020 (Augusta, ME) — Central Maine Power (CMP) has now spent $10.53 million and Hydro-Quebec $6.24 million on an unprecedented campaign to salvage their controversial 145-mile transmission line proposal that would deliver electricity from Quebec to Massachusetts by cutting through 53 miles of western Maine forestlands.
The $16.78 million spent by the two corporations since October 2019 smashes a previous spending record of $9.4 million in 2017 set by out-of-state casino companies that failed to get voters to support a York County casino.
“Maine people have never seen this much corporate, out-of-state money spent on a campaign aimed at defeating a citizen-initiated ballot measure,” said Natural Resources Council of Maine Advocacy Director Pete Didisheim. “This obscene level of spending as the state faces widespread economic hardship and a crippling health crisis is repulsive. CMP and Hydro-Quebec apparently have so much money to throw around that they can spend more per day on this campaign than the average Maine household makes in a year.”
Campaign spending reports filed yesterday with the Maine Ethics Commission reveal that CMP and Hydro-Quebec have spent, on average, $61,915 per day for the past 271 days, which compares to the average median household income in Maine of $55,602. At this pace, total CMP and Hydro-Quebec spending by Election Day would exceed $24.5 million.
“Of the $16.78 million spent, not a dime was contributed by a Maine voter interested in helping support this project,” added Didisheim. “That speaks volumes about this effort to force Mainers to accept a project they don’t want.”
The spending reports show the extent to which Canadian energy giant Hydro-Quebec is exploiting a loophole in Maine campaign law that fails to prevent foreign government-owned corporations like Hydro-Quebec from interfering in a Maine referendum campaign. Maine lawmakers were unable to close the loophole with pending legislation before the Legislature abruptly adjourned in March.
Unlike CMP, which is owned by Spain-based Iberdrola, Hydro-Quebec is owned exclusively by the Province of Quebec and provides the provincial government more than $2 billion annually. In 2018, Hydro-Quebec provided $2.4 billion in dividends to the government. As a result, voters in Quebec have a direct financial interest in Hydro-Quebec’s meddling in Maine’s elections, otherwise they could face increased sales taxes or income taxes.
“If Mainers were interfering in Quebec’s elections like Hydro-Quebec is doing here, you can be sure we’d hear about it. In fact, what Hydro-Quebec is doing in Maine appears to be illegal in Quebec and all of Canada,” said Didisheim.
In 2018, Canada enacted a strict Elections Modernization Act that restricts foreign funding in its elections. As described in the government news release: “foreign entities will now be prohibited from spending to influence elections.”
CMP’s political campaign includes a vast network of mostly out-of-state political consultants engaged in aggressive strategies never seen in a Maine referendum campaign:
- $397,467 on lawyers from Pierce Atwood ($340,889) and Rudman Winchell ($56,578) to challenge the Secretary of State’s certification of the petition signatures, then sue the State of Maine in an effort to block the referendum from appearing on the ballot after failing to disqualify sufficient signatures, then appeal the court’s decision that the ballot measure was valid;
- $99,021 on a private detective firm, Merrill’s Investigations, to stalk Maine citizens who were gathering signatures;
- $117,820 on an Arizona-based political firm, Signafide, whose sole purpose is to attempt to discredit signatures for citizen initiatives; and
- $112,114 on an Oakland, California-based opposition research firm, VR Research, to dig into the records of organizations and presumably individuals opposed to the project.
“These aggressive strategies to stalk Maine voters while they gathered signatures, challenge the signatures once they were submitted, conduct opposition research on groups opposed to the CMP corridor, and sue the State of Maine is further proof that CMP will do almost anything to subvert the efforts of the 66,000 Mainers who exercised their constitutional rights to place a measure on the ballot,” said Didisheim.
CMP’s spending reports also show that that the company has spent $7.25 million on TV and cable ads, $70,138 on digital ads, $1.2 million on direct mail and print ads, and $628,775 on polling and survey research. CMP has paid $129,434 to campaign manager Jonathan Breed since October 2019, putting him on track to receive $180,000 by Election Day, well over twice the annual salary of $70,000 for Maine’s governor.
Huge profits are at stake for these corporations, and investors in CMP’s parent company, Avangrid, have 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.
“This level of spending proves how unpopular the CMP corridor is with Maine voters,” said Didisheim. “If Mainers actually wanted this project, then CMP’s litigation efforts and a massive persuasion campaign with consultants from Washington, D.C.; New York City; Oakland, California; Phoenix, Arizona; and Methuen, Massachusetts wouldn’t be necessary.”