Advocates for a ballot question this fall that would lead the state to take control of Maine’s power grid have said the campaign is about lowering electricity prices and having fewer power outages.
But on Monday night, one of the lead organizers for the campaign, a former co-chair of the Portland Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, offered a different motivation behind the effort to seize Maine’s powergrid.
“So I’ve been one of the organizers involved in [Pine Tree Power] for a while. And basically we’re part of a coalition to pass a statewide public electric utility, which is an issue that resonates with a lot of working class people here. But importantly on top of the actual policy itself is that our chapter really used the campaign to develop our electoral program,” said Rose DuBois, the Organizing Director for the “Our Power” ballot question campaign committee.
“So just, really using the campaign to build our chapter,” said DuBois.
DuBois’s comments came during a Democratic Socialists of America National Political Committee Candidate Debate Panel on Monday.
The remarks are the clearest indicator yet that the Pine Tree Power campaign has been driven by broader political goals of left-wing organizers in Maine and nationally.
If the ballot question succeeds, then Maine will attempt to purchase the Maine-based assets of the companies that own Central Maine Power and Versant, Maine’s largest electricity distribution utilities.
Historically, Maine’s easy ballot initiative process has been used by out-of-state and national political interests as a testing ground for left-wing policies. If radical movements can notch a victory in Maine, then it makes it easier to replicate those policies in other states.
According to campaign finance records, Our Power received significant early financial backing from one wealthy family in San Francisco, California.
Campaign finance records show that Tom Preston-Werner, a billionaire software developer who lives in San Francisco, and his wife have given $150,000 to the Our Power committee through their nonprofit Preston-Werner Initiatives Inc. and a company under their control, 128 Collective.
In January, the 128 Collective gave Our Power $100,000; last September, the committee got $50,000 from Preston-Werner Initiatives.
The committee has also received $25,000 from the Green Advocacy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based organization founded by Michael Kieschnick.
That’s not to say that some Mainers aren’t chipping in.
Among the largest donors to the committee is Susan Bartovics of North Haven. She’s given more than $106,250. Gary Friedmann, a consultant located in Bar Harbor, has given $45,000.
Most of the donors to Our Power are from in-state; however, some nonprofit organizations working on the effort do not have to disclose their donors.
Aligned groups, like 350.org, the Sierra Club, and several Maine-based nonprofits that receive funding through Arabella Advisors, are listed as members of the Our Power coalition.
The Our Power committee has reported small in-kind contributions from these organizations, but the original source of funding for those nonprofits remains mostly unknown.
When the money is shuffled through various for-profit and nonprofit organizations, it can be next to impossible to discern the extent to which out-of-state money, and even money from foreign nationals, is influencing Maine politics.