What is the impact of 81,000 missed appointments?

estimates mainecare rides

I have been wondering for a while about the statewide cumulative impact of the MaineCare rides debacle on patients keeping their medical appointments, but it’s challenging to get current year data on Mainecare expenditures. (From the current administration, it’s hard to get it on recent past years, let alone current year. I have a renewed appreciation for what the Baldacci administration did well, including providing decent display tools for DHHS data as well as a number of other agency sources through Maine.gov DataShare.)

This wall was somewhat breached by the numbers provided in today’s article by Steve Mistler on this week’s hearing before the legislature’s Health and Human Services committee meeting. Daniel Donovan, director of the Aroostook Regional Transportation System, found that, under the current outsourced system of ride arrangements, his group had provided 9,762 rides in September. In September 2012, under the old Maine-based system, the group had provided 16,192 rides. This represents a 40% drop in rides provided – and, presumably, Mainecare-insured appointments attended – in Aroostook County. (Aroostook Regional Transportation System serves all of Aroostook county, plus a little bit extra.)

This information also gives us some sense of what the scale of the problem might be in the entire state. We can use the US Census American Communities Survey 2011 data to find out how many people have Mainecare insurance per county.

number mainecare

As you might suspect, the absolute number of Mainecare insurees is highest in places with the largest population. Maine’s most populous counties have the largest number of people insured by Mainecare.

Looking at the percentage of county populations that use Mainecare insurance, however, provides a different perspective. Here we see the familiar two-Maines breakdown. Southern and mid-coast Maine have a lower than average percent of population using Mainecare, northern, western and downeast Maine have a higher than average percent.

percent mainecare

Then, putting the Census information together with the cited data from Tuesday’s hearing, we can see what the Mainecare rides debacle means, substantively, for access to care in the various counties.

We can discover what percentage of all Aroostook Mainecare insurees got rides in September 2012 and September 2013. In 2012, 72% of Aroostook Mainecare insurees got rides from Aroostook Regional Transportation System. In 2013, 44% of them got rides. We can use these proportions to estimate what this would mean, if the rest of the state looks like Aroostook county in terms of the impact of the outsourced ride coordinators.

It would mean 81,004 missed medical appointments.

In one month alone.

That is just phenomenal. About a quarter of the state uses Mainecare in order to receive health care and DHHS’s continued use of their outsourced ride coordinator is dramatically reducing their access to service.

Hmmm. Why could they be tolerating such a terrible outcome? These are people who we as a state have determined are legally entitled to these services. These are people who are using medical services to meet what their (poorly reimbursed) doctors have determined are real medical requirements.

On the DHHS side, that may be something on the order of 81,000 appointments in September that they somehow didn’t have to pay for.

It will be very interesting to watch what happens to DHHS expenditures during the months of August 2013 and on. When we talk about balancing our state budget “on the backs of the most vulnerable,” savings realized through this method could not be described in more accurate terms.

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Governing Style and the Emergency

As the hours ticked by and the federal government teetered into partial shutdown, we all looked up to the sky (or in the newspapers) and wondered what would happen next. And for most of us, immediately…nothing. The impact of the federal shutdown was immediate on a small subset of American workers and their families. For the rest of us, it was ripples of various sizes, at various distances from us. Slipping into the shutdown was like pulling our canoes down into the water ahead of unknown rapids. The potential for serious damage looms, but there’s so much uncertainty that it’s hard to know exactly where it will come from, or when.

States experienced both the immediate impact and the prolonged uncertainty. The impact on states has and will continue to vary. States which depend on fall tourism to federal parks or monuments have felt a massive impact, as has occurred most strongly in Maine with Acadia. Federal funding of important food-security programs like WIC has stopped, leading to a horrified- but variable-wait in individual states for state funding to run dry. Activists and private philanthropy are stepping in as an imperfect stopgap measure. (For example, Twitter user @FeministHulk has provided one resource for tracking state-by-state WIC resources.)

The federal failure to fund many other similarly important federally-funded programs and positions has affected every state in the country. However, it’s affected them in different ways depending on the programs, size, and individual socio-economic qualities present in each state.

Just as the impact on states has varied, state responses have varied quite a bit too. Virginia, which is the state most affected by the federal shutdown, has responded by easing the process for state and federal employees who have been furloughed to register for unemployment. Alaska similarly has a large number of federal workers per capita. There, the governor has used his bully pulpit to argue with the US Department of the Interior for the opening of Alaskan federal lands. (The National Weather Service staff stationed in Alaska have been doing their part as well.) In Alabama, also among the states most affected, district court employees have been asked by the court’s administrative judge to work without pay. Connecticut’s governor determined that the federally-funded Head Start program was so critical to his state that he used his budgeting powers to find additional state funding for it to continue operating. Similarly, Utah’s governor found emergency funds within the budget to pay to reopen Utah’s national parks, in order to avoid the continuing devastating impact on Utah tourism. In North Carolina, individual agencies have been managing their substantial furloughs: their state’s DHHS told 337 employees not to come in to work this week.

In all of these cases, we see that states have been able to respond to the shutdown by exercising their normal powers of governance. In particular, if you look through the stories about how states have dealt with the shutdown, you see many people throughout state agencies behaving competently, making hard decisions as problems come at their individual departments.

In our state, the governor chose–as he so often does–to forge his own path. Rather than depending on his agency heads to make good decisions about how to respond to the specific problems they encountered, the governor decided that he needed more power to direct the state unilaterally. Not only was this a unique gubernatorial response to this federal shutdown, but as far as I could find is also unique over the collected state responses to both the 2013 and the 1995-1996 shutdown taken together. (In the previous shutdown, states even became adept at finding ways to blunt the effects on their state by paying attention to political headwinds and planning ahead for it.)

Even Florida’s executive branch chose a less confrontational path, sending only a letter to agency heads to instruct them not to substitute state money for missing federal funds. The governor of Wyoming acted similarly, moving so quickly that he needed the power of Google to keep up with his speed in letting affected employees know how to access unemployment and benefits. (You know you’re a small state when your lone webmaster apparently doesn’t have time to toss up a brief page on the state website for you.)

The idea that declaring a civil emergency and permitting the governor to suspend laws and rules was the most responsible or an inevitable way to deal with the federal shutdown begs credulity. It suggests either that Maine has a truly unusual set of laws which uniquely binds our governor’s hands or that Maine is more strongly affected than all other states. In its announcement, meanwhile, there was no evidence presented that the agency heads who were closest to the issues faced specific insurmountable constraints.

However, this decision to micromanage agency response to the shutdown by arrogating all decision-making power to himself has a strong echo across other demonstrations of the governor’s governing style. In the past, the governor has prevented department commissioners from testifying before committees. Upon entering office he issued a formal “gag order,” telling all department heads to run their comments to the legislature or media by his office first. And who could forget the feat of micromanagement achieved in the waning days of the last legislative session, where the governor managed to crush all previous total Maine gubernatorial veto records–as well as setting an impressive precedent–with 21 prospective laws vetoed in a single day?

The LePage Emergency is somewhat baffling when viewed alone, and very suspicious if you’ve been the subject of many of the governor’s frequent attacks, but somewhat more predictable if we observe his pattern. The governor seems generally to prefer that he alone (or perhaps with his robot legislature) makes all of the state’s decisions. This is not the only way to respond to the shutdown – and I believe that it will also not prove to be the best way – but in context it is not entirely surprising.

Posted in Governor LePage, National Economy, National Politics | Leave a comment

Amazon Wades In to Maine Politics – Mobilized Blogger Army to Follow?

What happens when the 800 lb gorilla of online retailing doesn’t like your state law?

In response to Maine’s implementation of a requirement that online sellers collect Maine sales tax, Amazon is shutting down its Maine Associates program. The Associate program is an Amazon advertising program where individual bloggers or website managers can link to products they like, and Amazon gives them a small percentage of the sales price for any sales generated through that link.  In theory, dissatisfied bloggers will lobby the state government to force it to end the implementation of its tax. On the other hand, many state business interests see it as being unfair that Amazon is undercutting their prices because they aren’t held to the same sales tax collection standards. This seems additionally unfair since local businesses are already supporting our state through paying the overhead of maintaining brick and mortar stores in the state, hiring Maine-based employees (no matter how apparently unemployable we are), supporting other Maine-based businesses, and generally making things locally available that you might need:

I didn’t realize this before I started looking into it this morning, but Amazon has used the strategy of shutting down an Associate program in response to the state’s implementation of its sales tax with other states. California was one of the earlier recipients of the Amazon policy to end state residents’ access to the Associate Program when their state instituted a law that online sellers selling goods to state residents collect sales tax. The most recent experience to Maine’s that I could find through a quick online search was in Missouri, where the business cut off Associate partners just last month. Here was the state of affairs with regard to Amazon’s use of this strategy in 2011:

This obviously has continued to evolve.

As the map reveals, where Amazon really wants to continue to make money with a state, it doesn’t necessarily maintain this policy. Amazon now collects sales tax on behalf of Virginia and California, for example. In the case of the agreement it reached with California, the business is also apparently obliged to support the effort to create a national online sales tax. Of course, while the national online sales tax passed the US Senate (with both Democratic and Republican suport) it did not get through the US House, where members had more pressing issues to deal with.

While I don’t expect that second part of the agreement to be effectively enforced anytime soon, it does make it pretty clear that Amazon is testing its political strength against that of state governments. In the case of Amazon v. California or Amazon v. Virginia, Amazon is apparently not yet able to best the will of the state government. I’m not sure who I’d bet on in Amazon v. Missouri, however.

And Amazon v. Maine?

I think it will depend to some degree on the political will of the people who Amazon is attempting to mobilize through this move. Here are the blog responses that I’ve found to the issue so far:

Three Cents’ Worth

Webmaster Source

As Maine Goes

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Risky Business

Thirty years ago this past April, a group of individuals appointed by President Reagan came out with a report that, like a tree falling into a river, has bent the flow of America’s perception of its public education system ever since. Entitled “A Nation At Risk,” this subtle little pamphlet sets the stage for what is to come with the eponymous statement of its title:

“Out Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world...the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people...If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.

While this language sounds melodramatic by today’s standards, the sentiments are contemporary and familiar.  If this was the call to arms for America’s public education system to help the country fight the national competition of the Cold War, today’s competition circles around the related pressures of a booming China and a generally flattening global economy.  Read through the 1983 report and you will find many further echoes:

“• International comparisons of student achievement, completed a decade ago, reveal that on 19 academic tests American students were never first or second and, in comparison with other industrialized nations, were last seven times…
• Between 1975 and 1980, remedial mathematics courses in public 4-year colleges increased by 72 percent and now constitute one-quarter of all mathematics courses taught in those institutions…
• Business and military leaders complain that they are required to spend millions of dollars on costly remedial education and training programs in such basic skills as reading, writing, spelling, and computation. The Department of the Navy, for example, reported to the Commission that one-quarter of its recent recruits cannot read at the ninth grade level, the minimum needed simply to understand written safety instructions.”

In other words, our schools are failing us and our country is failing as a result. That sounds familiar, too.

A Nation At Risk is a must-read for people who want to understand where some of the tone is coming from in today’s national education reform debate. What’s nice to discover in looking back at A Nation At Risk is that our current, urgent discussion about the desperate need for school reform has been taking place for at least the last thirty years. We may feel that we’re in an extraordinary national emergency, with no time for cautious experiments or thoughtful exploration, but this is the same case that has been made for several decades now. Since at least the 1970s, according to this report, the United States has not been a leader in international education assessments. Yet the US has not fallen to pieces.

So enough with the fear-mongering. Would we like a better education system, that does a better job of improving student outcomes? Yes! Can we spend some time working out a good way of making that happen, without feeling the hot breath of imminent national destruction on the back of our necks? Well, I’d say that’s up to us. Instead of identifying individual villains – Teachers’ unions! Lazy parents! Technology! – we could instead choose to carefully explore the complex nature of the problems we face. We could try to figure out what it exactly is that we want most out of our education system and support interventions which help us achieve those goals. We could come to the common-sense conclusion that standardized testing is a tool but not the ultimate and inerrant measure of everything that is good and bad about our educational system. 

While somewhat less exciting than valiantly fighting against the “rising tide of mediocrity,” this more multidimensional approach resonates better with me. In a future post, I’ll look at the PISA and see how this international assessment – the source of so much international stress and invidious comparison – actually demonstrates some interesting features that we might consider adopting for a less test-focused and more well-rounded picture of helpful school practices.

With that in mind, I return to A Nation At Risk and find that it demonstrates how we have considerable continuity not only in our fears, but also in our hope and vision for American education. The report announces that we must stand by our twin commitments to both excellence and equity in education. We do this because:

Our goal must be to develop the talents of all to their fullest. Attaining that goal requires that we expect and assist all students to work to the limits of their capabilities. We should expect schools to have genuinely high standards rather than minimum ones, and parents to support and encourage their children to make the most of their talents and abilities.

Happily, that sounds familiar too, and like a goal we can all continue to work towards. What tools do we have in our toolbox to help us get closer to it?

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Headwinds, or why I will never play poker with Ben Grant

Benoit Vote Percentage 2008 and 2013

I must admit to being surprised by Eloise Vitelli’s win in the special election to fill the open seat in Maine Senate District 19. (Here’s me predicting the opposite outcome.)  Given Vitelli’s relative lack of campaign experience, it’s a pretty substantial thing to gain a Senate seat against someone who had run several previous elections.

Of course, this was no ordinary election.  The amount of campaign money spent on this one special election ranked it among the most expensive Maine legislative elections of all time. Donors from inside and outside of Maine clearly saw this election as an important one to win.

Journalists and commentators alike noted the potential impact of the governor’s latest gaffe on the outcome of this election. Certainly, in a county that went soundly for Obama in 2012, there was reason to believe that insulting the president would not help the governor’s party. But how much did attitudes towards the governor help shape the outcome in 2013’s special election?

Above, I present a chart that describes the relative vote percent that Paula Benoit received in each SD 19 town in 2008, when she lost to Seth Goodall, against her performance in those towns in 2013.  Despite the short duration of the campaign and the advantage that Benoit should have enjoyed from increased name recognition alone, she fared worse than she did in 2008 in seven towns. In four towns, she did as well as or better than she did in 2008, percentage-wise.

This chart below suggests that the Democrats were indeed successful in tying Benoit to Gov. LePage, helping to associate her with the current, significant image problems that the governor continues to generate.

benoit and lepage

Here, if we map the percent of the vote in each town that the governor won in 2010 against Benoit’s performance in 2008 and 2013, we can see that the towns in LePage fared worst also tended to demonstrate a decline in support for Benoit. Meanwhile, the three towns where LePage did best matched or increased their 2008 support for Benoit in 2013.

Levels of support for the governor appear to predict a town’s likelihood of maintaining support for the Republican legislative candidate.  Looking particularly at the largest district towns of Bath and Topsham, if Benoit had simply held on to the same percentage of voters she had in 2008 she would likely have won. Unfortunately for her, she was not only fighting her campaign opponent, but also against the headwinds generated by the bluster at the head of her own party.

Posted in Elections, Governor LePage, Maine Legislature | Leave a comment

Visualizations of Inequality

Southeast Quadrant, NYC service map from the 1990s

So, back in the olden days before I was ready to settle down somewhere sensible, I lived in New York for a few years. First I lived in Chelsea with a roommate from college, and then I moved to a huge and sketchily-managed apartment off of 5th Avenue in Brooklyn. (I paid my rent, in cash, by handing it over personally to my landlord. He would helpfully sit outside my building on the first of the month for that purpose.) The map above displays the wealth of subway options available to someone who lived in my neck of the woods in the later-1990s.

The New Yorker has produced an excellent visualization of inequality through measuring how median income changes from subway stop to subway stop. Following this version of the subway map produces an especially wild ride because New York is the country’s most unequal city. One of the most popular ways of measuring inequality is with a Gini coefficient measuring dispersion of income. Gini coefficients are read in the following way: if everyone had exactly the same income, the coefficient would be 0, and if all of the income went to only one person the coefficient would be 1.  New York tops all other locations in the US in this game with a Gini coefficient of over .5 for the entire metropolitan area and over .6 for New York County (Manhattan) itself.  For reference, that means that New York City is on par with the most unequal countries in the world, Lesotho and South Africa.

Would you like to see what that looks like through exploring the tracks of New York’s subways? If you’ve lived there, you can start from your own memorable stop and move in either direction. For the most dramatic ride, check out the 2, which ranges from a median neighborhood income of $205,192 in Lower Manhattan to a median income of $13,750 in the Bronx.

ride

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And I did not speak up because I was not a plastic-thingy maker…

I feel like I saw the writing on the wall this morning when I opened my email and saw an advertisement from people who offered to do my job for me.

innov email

While it is my most personalized experience with it, this not the first time I have come across the idea of outsourcing or off-shoring  academic knowledge work as a way to increase productivity. This very well-intentioned article, for example, advocates it. It extends to many other domains as well, of course. For example, do you want to up the productivity of your expensive metropolitan white-shoe law-firm? Hire cheap lawyers from West Virginia to actually do the work you bill for! Cardiac surgeons not making enough money for their hospitals? Hire cheaper doctors to do the less essential parts of your surgeries! Efficiencies!

And who is it who will be doing my work? Surely some smart, well-paid-for-her-location Indian researcher.  At least by hiring her I’d be helping to equalize the wealth in a global system which unfairly advantaged me – and disadvantaged her – purely by the accident of the geography of our birth.

Or, maybe not.

innovaccer2

Maybe that work will be done by unpaid interns, with the profit margin going to benefit the wunderkind who realized that the production pressure on Western academics provided a great pain point for which to market a release.

Even I can participate in the undercutting of my own work-value! 21st century capitalism is nothing if not egalitarian.

Before the recession, when wage pressures dramatically increased as the amount of available labor skyrocketed, Paul Krugman had this thoughtful meditation on the fact that although national GDP as a whole might rise from unrestricted free trade, there was no reason to expect that those benefits would be evenly distributed. And indeed, it has not been.

rising inequality

Here’s a little data visualization I made of my own, non-productive initiative. The trend lines track median income (in 2010 dollars) at the limit of each decile of American households. (Note that the top line refers to the top 5% only, which benefited so much more than the top 10% as a whole that even the steadfastly ideologically neutral folks at the US Census felt obliged to break it out.)

Managed to locate a good data source all by myself!  Data cleaned courtesy of our good old American tax money – but again, thanks for the offer, my entrepreneurial friends!

Posted in National Economy, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Oh, Canadian Electricity

Alighting upon this morning’s editorial in the Morning Sentinel, I was delighted to see a review of the governor’s Saturday Radio Address on electricity prices.

Thought to myself, “AVERAGE household bill of $84 month? Meaning as many residential households paying $100 as $65?”

I found this suspicious. My household’s bill is usually around $40.

Now, the governor has been known to stretch the truth a bit on occasion, but this one seemed pretty easy to check into.

So, to the data:

  • Maine average household electricity use: 521 kWh/month, according to the Maine Public Utilities Commission
  • Central Maine Power average price per kW: $0.1147
  • Average household cost should therefore be in the range of $59/month.

Montreal electricity prices are indeed very low; according to Hydro-Power Quebec’s data the governor’s statistic of $34/month seems correct.

Is $34/month something that could apply to Maine?

Very unlikely. As this morning’s Sentinel editorial points out, it is one thing to have a state-subsidized public hydopower generator and another to have to produce that privately. (Of course, if Gov. LePage is saying that Maine should subsidize our citizens’ electricity costs to the extent they do in Canada, bring it on, I say!)

Not that this degree of subsidy is consistent across Canada. Note that New Brunswick, which has a mix of power sources, has similar rates to Maine.

(Canadian energy use and production for the kids! by Canadian Geographic.)

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In Love

Move over Maine Municipal Association 2011 Fiscal Survey, there’s a new spreadsheet in town. The Maine Ethics Commission’s whole contributions database – including all 218,212 recorded contributions since 2000 –  is my new jam. Here’s today’s picture of the data – isn’t it dreamy?

total contribs by entity category

This data summary is a record of the total contributions to different kinds of campaign entities over time.  Contributions to candidates (CAN) is just one kind of contribution tracked by the Maine Ethics Commission; the Commission also tracks contributions to ballot question committees (BQC), political action committees (PAC), and party committees (PTY).

Characterizing these trends from top to bottom on the legend, we can see that ballot question committee (BQC) contributions were separately tracked by the Ethics Commission starting only in 2009. (Before that they seem to have been lumped together with PACs.) The big bump in 2011 was due almost entirely to the folks at Ocean Properties, a developer that wants to build a big racino in Biddeford. Ocean Properties developed a campaign committee with the cheerful and non-specific name of “Putting Maine to Work” instead of using their own name, although it appears they were the sole funder of the ultimately $3.75 million campaign. According to the Sun Chronicle, looks like the folks at Ocean Properties will be trying again. At the very least, they are certainly Putting Direct Mail Printers to Work, so at least there’s that.

Candidate contributions (CAN) are driven most heavily by the gubernatorial election cycle. You can see that while there’s a bump every two years for the state legislative elections, the big bumps on that red line correspond to the gubernatorial elections. (Note the sharp upward trend in spending over time as well, as tracked across those gubernatorial elections.) 2010 featured not only a race for an open governor’s seat but also the legislative races which would conduct post-Census redistricting – the subject of a big and successful campaign effort by the RSLC. It will be really interesting to see how much higher spending trends in 2014. If the rate of increase in campaign spending is similar to the trend over the last three elections, total contributions to candidates should be around $22 million.

However, with so many other ways to give that influential campaign cash, why limit yourself to just giving to candidates? As I discussed in my last post, PACs are much less limited in terms of what they can collect from individuals and corporations, particularly if they avoid “coordinating” with the candidate.

The PAC line is unfortunately a little confusing because of the way that ballot questions and candidate committees are combined here until 2009. (In general, the distinction between these groups is fairly fine.) The enormous bump in 2003 is again because of the spending on casinos on the ballot. The largest spender that year was Marnell Carrao, a Las Vegas casino developer, and this group happens to enjoy the distinction of being the largest single financial contributor to Maine campaigns in the last 13 years, dropping $.6.8 million dollars in an effort to achieve their political goal. (Instead of a self-interest generating name like “Putting Maine to Work,” Marnell Carrao went under the somewhat less inspiring campaign committee nom de guerre of “Think About It.” That is just way too snide to be an effective identity-shielding campaign name.) The casino counter-campaign also raised and spent a lot of money that year, although the contributing sources were more diverse.

Since the Citizens United case makes it much easier to give large amounts to campaigns through PACs, we should see that lavender line continue to trend upwards. Though there has been little for PACs to campaign about this year, they will have plenty of things to spend on in 2014.

Finally, the line representing the trend in contributions to party committees continues to bump along in a fairly regular biennial pattern, flushing to elect legislators, declining in election off-years. The party committee seems to have become a sort of the Christmas club savings account of Maine campaign finance, not attracting the sort of heights and variation in donors that we see across all other categories.

OK, time to say goodnight to the database. Looking forward to admiring it in other lights sometime soon!

Posted in Campaign Finance, Elections | Leave a comment

Independent Expenditures, A Prelude

IEs in Me Elects 3

The race is on! Some great analysis and commentary lately on the first Maine Ethics Commission campaign finance report filings for the 2014 gubernatorial election. The candidates’ report filings are indeed important pieces of data to track – and not just because of the pure topline figures, but because they give you a lot of information about where the money is coming from. Mike Tipping uses the date to examine a variety of questions related to financial sources in his column in the BDN earlier this week. (And three cheers for graphs!)

There’s another source of money which is just going to start trickling into the system soon, however, which is less easily recorded and tracked. Independent expenditures are a form of campaign finance that had existed before 2010, but which blasted into stratospheric levels following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission. As opposed to the quite strictly limited funding that can be given directly to candidates – and less limited, but still regulated spending that can go to traditional political action committees (PACs) — this decision allows unlimited spending, by any person or corporation, with very limited disclosure requirements. This type of organization is known as a SuperPAC.

Colbert Super PAC – Not Coordinating

Watching Stephen Colbert is the most fun way to learn more about this unrestricted new method of campaign funding – the clip above is one of my favorites, but make yourself up a Colbert-SuperPAC playlist sometime (featuring former FEC head Trevor Potter) if you’d like to entertain yourself while learning more. Anyway, the one condition on these organizations is that they’re supposed to work without input from the candidate’s campaign.  This “uncoordinated” assistance offered by SuperPACs is therefore known as “independent expenditures.”

Because they are unlimited, unlike just about every other form of candidate-focused campaign spending, independent expenditures have really taken off as a significant factor in campaign spending since 2010.  The National Institute on Money in State Politics examined independent expenditures from 2006-2010. and we have every reason to believe that we’ll be seeing some of the big hitters back again in 2014. The Republican Governors Association was the largest overall independent spender in 2010 with over $26 million invested in six state campaigns (and yes, Maine was one of them.) As Gerald Weinand posted to DailyKos about the huge 2010 ad buy by the Republican Governors Association – Maine PAC, this organization allowed a number of companies from across the country to influence Maine elections without revealing who they were. (The Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which was a major supporter of the RGA, is itself largely supported by the DeVos family that started Amway.)

So what was it, again,that the RGA brought to us in 2010?

rga libby

Mehhhmories, like the corners of my mind…

rga paul
Through substantial ad buys and direct mailing, independent expenditures make a significant contribution to the nature of our campaigns these days through the addition of money which is unpredictable, difficult to track, and mostly from out of state.

While it doesn’t yet track the true sources of independent expenditure money, Maine Ethics Commission does track the amounts of expenditures (although it can be tricky to find those reports since they’re not listed on the website’s regular left-hand navigation bar-  this is the link.) What looking at those reports demonstrates is the massive increase in independent expenditure spending in 2010.

IEs in ME Elects

The decline in 2012 speaks to the fact that there was no governor’s seat at stake, but even so the amount that was spent in 2012 was about six times higher than the amount that was spend in 2008, the last comparable pre-Citizens United election.

What’s also telling is the massive shift towards negative ads. Because independent expenditures are essentially strings-free, a candidate can “not coordinate” and have the SuperPAC get in all the licks against an opposing candidate that they’d like, all without any official responsibility.  Negative ads by independent spenders have grown tremendously since 2010.

IEs in ME Elects 2

SuperPAC ads can even completely lie about their targets with no consequences at all. In general, political ads are not held to any “truth in advertising” law because of strong free speech guarantees on political speech. You really can say whatever you want. However, candidates would ordinarily need to guard their reputations and be careful not to smear their opponents with untruths, for fear some of that mud might splash back on them.

Unluckily for us, anonymous groups with ambiguous names have a lot more reputational freedom.

So where did these independent expenditures from 2010 come from? Knowing this will help flush out a significant part of the story of campaign finance in 2014. Based on what we saw in 2010 – where independent expenditures from faceless groups bought nearly as much campaigning as our disclosed donations to candidates – this is going to be an interesting story.

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