Spending comes as utility seeks rate increase that would cost Mainers $46.5 million
NRCM news release
Augusta, ME (January 16, 2020) A newly released campaign report filed late yesterday reveals that Central Maine Power (CMP) funneled an astounding $2.3 million to its Political Action Committee (PAC) during the last three months of 2019 in an effort to prop up its deeply unpopular transmission corridor proposal.
This massive political spending went to expensive political strategy firms in DC and California, to high-paid political consultants here in Maine, and included nearly $98,000 on polling, $1.7 million on television ads, close to $14,000 on social media ads, and $46,000 on opposition research.
“CMP is spending a stunning amount of money on a campaign aimed at preventing Maine people from getting a chance to vote on CMP’s highly controversial and unpopular energy corridor proposal,” said Pete Didisheim, Advocacy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “This feverish spending should raise serious questions because it comes at a time when CMP is seeking a rate increase that would cost Mainers nearly $47 million.”
According to filings with the Maine Ethics Commission, CMP’s staff have also contributed $50,000 in in-kind work, including coordination on polling and messaging, and donations of email lists, film, and other promotional materials.
“Instead of spending more than $1 million per month on this propaganda campaign, CMP should be focused on addressing its serious customer service problems,” continued Didisheim. CMP recently was ranked as the worst utility in the country for customer service in a national survey of business customers by J.D. Power.
According to the campaign finance report filed by CMP on Wednesday:
- CMP campaign manager, Jonathan Breed, was paid $53,125 from October to December 2019, which is more than most Maine households make in a year. The median Maine household income in Maine is $55,425, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. CMP Lobbyist James Mitchell was paid $20,000 during this period.
- CMP spent $1.775 million on television ads during this period, and $13,840 on Facebook and Twitter ads.
- CMP spent $46,800 on an opposition research firm, VR Research, Inc., based in Oakland, California.
“This opposition research spending raises serious questions about who CMP is investigating,” said Didisheim. “At a time when Maine citizens are collecting signatures to place a ballot measure on the November ballot, is CMP spending tens of thousands of dollars trying to dig up dirt on those individuals?”
Over the same time period, Hydro-Quebec spent $228,000 on its PAC, which is under scrutiny by ethics officials because it failed to report $100,000 in campaign spending. Lawmakers also are exploring legislation that would prevent a government-owned utility like Hydro-Quebec from interfering in Maine elections. The Hydro-Quebec Maine Partnership PAC shows that most of its spending was on “campaign workers’ salaries and personnel costs.” It is unclear whether these are HQ utility employees, who in essence work for the government of Quebec, because Quebec is the sole shareholder of Hydro-Quebec.
Twenty-five towns have voted to oppose or rescind their support for the CMP corridor project, as have the Androscoggin County Commissioners, Franklin County Commissioners, two of the state’s largest unions, and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. According to a 2019 poll, 65% of Mainers oppose the project, with opposition exceeding 80% in Franklin and Somerset Counties, where the project would cut a new 53-mile corridor through a forested landscape that hosts the nation’s best remaining habitat for brook trout.
Additional background on spending details from CMP’s filing with the Maine Ethics Commission:
1. Polling and Focus Groups
- TargetSmart Communications LLC in DC was paid a total of $97,980 from October through December.
- $90,000 (10/4/19)
- $2,098 (11/26/19)
- $882 (11/27/19)
- $5,000 (12/20/19)
2. Campaign Staff
- Jonathan Breed (Campaign Manager) was paid $53,125 for three months of work.
- $13,125 (11/13/19)
- $10,000 (11/15/19)
- $20,000 (12/2/19)
- $10,000 (12/30/19)
- James Mitchell was paid $20,000 in this three-month period.
- $12,000 (11/20/19)
- $8,000 (12/2/19)
3. Television Ads
- Placed through GMMB Inc. in DC, totaled $1,774,335.
- $544,097 (11/7/19)
- $26,208 (11/22/19) — production
- $451,244 (12/2/19)
- $485,611 (12/16/19)
- $250,000 (12/20/19)
- $17,175 (12/30/19) — production
4. Social Media Advertising
- Facebook and Twitter ad spending totaled $13,840.
5. Opposition Research
- VR Research Inc. in California was paid $46,800.