The Maine Democratic Party is issuing mailers on behalf of a Democratic state senator from Androscoggin County. The mailers tout a record on welfare reform that doesn’t exist and attack the Republican candidate using sources that also do not exist.
According to Maine campaign finance records, the Maine Democratic Party has spent more than $10,000 dollars on the Senate District 20 race, where Incumbent Sen. John Cleveland (D-Androscoggin) is facing a challenge from up-and-comer Eric Brakey, a former chairman of the libertarian Defense of Liberty PAC.
Cleveland is running as a taxpayer-funded candidate and has received more than $23,000 from taxpayers to fund his political campaign. But he still has most of that cash on hand, as the party is footing the bill for the mailers.
One attack mailer describes Brakey’s position on “women’s health” as “extreme.” The mailer cites a Jan. 27 article in the Portland Press Herald as well as Brakey’s official Twitter account – but those sources may be phantom footnotes.
A search of the Press Herald’s website revealed no article featuring Brakey on the referenced date. One article, published on Jan. 26, referenced Brakey, but only in the context of his campaign’s decision to accept donations of BitCoin, a digital currency.
A review of Brakey’s 415 tweets from his Twitter account found plenty of mentions of Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who has endorsed his campaign, but nothing remotely controversial about birth control or abortion.
Most political watchers viewed Brakey’s race against a well-known incumbent Democrat as a long-shot in a district that tends to vote Democratic, but big spending from party’s central committee means they’re worried that the race will be competitive.
“It’s a shame that my opponent and his allies are resorting to using false sources and making things up,” Brakey said. “I’ve heard of people distorting their opponent’s record. But fabricating sources? That’s new to me.”
The Democrats’ negative attacks on Brakey are suspect, but the ones intended to boost Cleveland are even more questionable.
“Welfare reform got the Green Light from John Cleveland,” text on one mailer reads.
But there’s one problem: Cleveland voted with other Democratic lawmakers against a slate of welfare reform bills.
According to legislative voting records, Cleveland voted against a bill to prevent Food Stamp users from using taxpayer-funded benefits to purchase junk food (L.D. 1411). The Democrat also voted against a measure requiring a front-end work search for those seeking welfare benefits (L.D. 1842) and a bill to block the use of Maine EBT cards in states outside of Maine (L.D. 1820).
Republicans say the mailers are misleading at best.
“Once again Maine Democrats are trying to mislead voters,” said Senate Republican Leader Michael Thibodeau (R-Waldo).
“When they had an opportunity to protect the taxpayer and secure the safety net for those truly in need they rejected common sense reform,” he said.
Brakey, who has not accepted taxpayer money for his campaign, said the people of his Lewiston-Auburn area district support welfare reform and will not be persuaded by his opponent’s rhetoric.
“I can understand why my opponent is so desperate to distract from his record of blocking welfare reform,” said Brakey.
“The people I’m talking to when I go door to door aren’t buying it,” he said. “They know John Cleveland toed the party line for Portland Democrats and voted against welfare reform.”
LePage, along with GOP lawmakers, introduced four welfare reform bills early this year.
The package of bills would have enacted a front-end work-search requirement for welfare seekers, eliminated catch-all exemptions that DHHS staff say have allowed welfare recipients to avoid career development programs, blocked the use of EBT cards in far-away places like Disney World and Las Vegas, and prevented EBT cards from being used at liquor stores, tobacco shops, gambling venues and strip clubs.
In March, Democrats on the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee voted against two of these reforms and turned the other two into study resolves. No welfare reform bills wound up becoming law.
This is not the first time Democrats have sought to claim responsibility for an initiative they opposed in the 126th Legislature.
In December, Senate President Justin Alfond (D-Portland) and Rep. Matt Moonen (D-Portland) both sent matching mailers to their constituents claiming that repaying more than $500 million in old Medicaid debts to Maine’s hospitals has the work of Democrats. The repayment was actually one of LePage’s key campaign promises, and he led the effort despite strong resistance from Democratic leaders.
The Democratic Party’s spending in Cleveland’s race may have been prompted by revelations that the senator, who works as a consultant in his private life, over-billed the town of Poland by roughly 80 percent for work he did reconciling the town’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) accounts.
Cleveland’s decision to bill Poland $12,725 for work he estimated would cost $6,900 left selectmen furious and resulted in a smattering of bad press from his local newspaper.
Brakey said he will be responding to Cleveland’s mailers with radio advertisements set to air on Tuesday.
UPDATE: Readers have sent The Maine Wire additional copies of the “Green Light” mailers distributed in Lincoln County. The mailers, which have similar images and text to the Cleveland mailers, were sent out by the Maine Democratic Party on behalf of incumbent Democrat Sen. Chris Johnson. Johnson also voted against the GOP-sponsored welfare reforms, so the mailer is similarly questionable on his part. That the tactic is being used in multiple senate races shows how concerned Democrats are over the issue of welfare reform. “It looks like they may be afraid of erosion of their base,” the reader notes.