How much the governor really owes, and to which special-interest groups
Paul LePage was making national headlines last week for all the wrong reasons: telling the NAACP to "kiss my butt" on the eve of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, dismissing the civil-rights organization as a "special interest" he won't be "held hostage" by after its local director expressed concern at his declining to participate in MLK Day events his predecessors had (see more here).
But while the governor's outbursts and bullying persona grab the headlines, the interest groups who helped put him into office have received scant attention. I'm not talking about the run-of-the-mill donors who gave directly to his campaign, whose donations were capped at a less-than-influential $750. I mean the really big cash funneled into the race via the Republican Governors Association's dedicated Maine PAC, which raised more than $1.8 million overall and spent over a million dollars on media buys supporting LePage or attacking his opponents — more, in fact, than LePage's own campaign did. Who paid for all those ads? Fifty out-of-state corporations and industry associations, to whom the governor now owes a considerable political debt.
Many of the RGA Maine PAC donors have obvious or longstanding interests here in Maine. Some spend tens of thousands a year here on lobbyists, who've worked to shape or undo present and former regulations or the setting of budget items in Augusta. Others' interests in Maine can only be speculated at, or remain a mystery altogether. But if Mainers wish to keep an eye out to make sure their political leaders aren't selling them out, they need to have some idea of what to look out for. Here's our cheat sheet for doing so.
The Drug Industry
Chipped in $760,000
Maine has been a national leader in health-insurance reform, passing the first state laws preventing insurers from denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions back when Republican Jock McKernan was governor. Under the Democrats, Maine created a discounted drug program — MaineRx — which forced drug companies to negotiate volume discounts with the state. The pharmaceutical companies pulled out all the stops to derail the law, taking their effort all the way to the US Supreme Court, which sided with Maine. This program and other regulations on drug companies were modeled by other states, much to the drug company's dismay.
Their industry association —PHRMA — has since maintained a squad of lobbyists in Augusta, led by former Democratic Party chairman (and Baldacci cousin) Jim Mitchell, who collected $19,000 in lobbying fees from them last year alone. (For more on Democrats acting like Republicans, go here.) Add their other lobbyists and those hired separately by ASTRAZENECA, PFIZER, and GLAXO-SMITH KLEIN and the industry spent an impressive $78,000 lobbying Augusta. Disclosures show all the lobbyists were paid to influence more-or-less the same set of bills last year: an act to prevent them from marketing drugs to minors via information collected from kids on the Internet; a bill to prohibit them from continuing to give gifts and paybacks to health-care providers for prescribing their products; a law to require them to foot the bill for the safe disposal of unwanted drugs from households.
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