Report #11: The Shell Game - How Independent Expenditures Have Invaded Maine Since Citizens United

About the Series

The Money in Politics Project is a series of twelve reports about the role and effect of money on Maine politics. The reports combine a review of publicly available campaign finance data with on-the-ground analysis of how money influences Maine's elections, government, and public policy. Maine Citizens for Clean Elections launched this project because money in politics is an issue of vital concern to the people of Maine, one that goes to the heart of our democratic system.
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How Independent Expenditures Have Invaded Maine Since Citizens United.

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Independent expenditures occupy a unique place in our system of campaign finance. This type of spending is subject to far less regulation than contributions given directly to candidates on the reasoning that truly "independent" spending does not have the same potential to secure favoritism and therefore create corruption or the appearance of corruption. Many people inside and outside of the political system, however, dismiss that distinction, insisting that independent expenditures can be every bit as effective in gaining access and influence for the spenders as direct contributions.

Moreover, independent expenditures are large and growing larger. Due to court decisions from Buckley v. Valeo in 1976 through Citizens United in 2010, the state or federal government cannot restrict independent expenditures. The sky is the limit, and in Maine races independent expenditures have risen much more rapidly than candidate spending. Between 2006 and 2010 gubernatorial independent expenditures increased by 650%, and between 2008 and 2012 legislative independent expenditures increased by 557%.

In the election cycles from 2000 to 2010 candidates participating in the Maine Clean Election Act public funding system were eligible to receive matching funds in the event that independent expenditures were made against them. The system of matching funds was struck down by the courts in 2011, and legislation to replace it with an alternative source of supplemental funding has been carried over until the Second Session of the 126th Legislature. With the absence of matching funds independent expenditures have played an increasing role, dominating some races.


  • The amount of independent expenditures in Maine elections has increased dramatically since Citizens United.
  • It is impossible to track the money behind independent expenditures with precision, but the entities making independent expenditures usually act as pass-throughs, raising most of their money from other groups or organizations.
  • Large out-of-state entities provide funding that directly or indirectly enables most independent expenditures in Maine.
  • The original source of some of the money fueling the independent expenditure system is not subject to effective disclosure because it is channeled through 501(c) groups and other entities that do not have to reveal their contributors.
  • Money spent in the Senate District 32 race can be traced indirectly back to sources tied to George Soros on the Democratic side and the Koch brothers on the Republican side.

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