Central Maine Energy’s marketing campaign effort is starting to resemble its all-out lobbying blitz within the Legislature of late because it dispatches operatives from throughout the political spectrum forward of a referendum difficult its $1 billion hydropower hall.
The August announcement that CMP had employed Adrienne Bennett — who was a spokesperson for former Gov. Paul LePage and opposed the corridor throughout an unsuccessful Republican major run within the 2nd Congressional District final yr — to steer a brand new political committee opposing Query 1, made her the newest in a pro-corridor coalition of lobbyists and different politicos.
The hall has by no means fallen clearly alongside political strains. Each LePage and Gov. Janet Mills, who will run towards one another in 2022, are supporters of the mission that faces stiff grassroots opposition. Sensing these political winds, candidates in final yr’s election skewed against the corridor however didn’t acquire the legislative supermajorities wanted to overcome Mills’ veto pen.
The hall debate and one other on a second topic that might go to the Maine poll in 2022 — a consumer-owned electrical utility that will change CMP and Versant Energy — has made strange bedfellows in CMP’s bipartisan coalition of operatives and the fossil-fuel and environmental teams which have teamed up towards the big utility.
However hall backers have dominated the spending battle to date, spending four-fifths of greater than $42 million spent going again to 2019 in a public marketing campaign over the mission. On the identical time, CMP and its allies have lobbied closely on the hall, consumer-owned utility and related points in Augusta. Father or mother firm Avangrid, mission companion Hydro-Quebec and a subset firm managing the mission disclosed $122,000 in lobbying bills in 2021.
Hiring spanned from well-known Mills ally Jim Mitchell of Jackson, Mitchell and Tardy for CMP to conservative agency Patriot Consulting’s Zach Lingley for the corporate managing the mission. Additionally doing work on the difficulty was Josh Tardy, an influential former Republican legislative chief who’s Jackson’s enterprise companion.
CMP’s hiring of Bennett exemplifies an try to capitalize on these variations forward of the November referendum that can ask if voters need to retroactively block initiatives of the scale of the hall and the route the place it’s anticipated to run via Maine.
“If now we have a chance to come back to the desk, to seek out frequent floor on one thing as now we have on this specific situation and Query 1, it’s going to learn us as an entire,” she stated.
Bennett, who backed an anti-corridor query when she was operating for workplace that was later struck from the 2020 poll by Maine’s excessive court docket, stated it was “no secret” she has been on the opposite facet of the difficulty, however that her focus will probably be on the retroactive nature of this yr’s query and the amount of power it might give to lawmakers.
She additionally famous variations between the 2 questions: The primary would have directed Maine’s public utilities regulator to reverse approval of the mission, whereas the brand new query tackles three points — electrical transmission strains within the Higher Kennebec area, requiring legislative approval for related initiatives sooner or later and retroactively requiring legislative approval for related initiatives that cross public lands going again to 2014.
Bennett was a newcomer to electoral politics earlier than her major run final yr for the precise to face Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat whose former marketing campaign supervisor, Jonathan Breed, now leads the CMP-funded Clear Power Issues. Throughout that run, she launched a right-wing pundit who known as Lewiston a “refugee dumping floor” at a speech in Maine.
Breed told Maine Public he didn’t need to “get into an excessive amount of” about Bennett’s previous work however sees her expertise as a profit. His group referred a request for touch upon Tuesday to Ben Dudley, a former Maine Democratic Occasion chairman who leads the business community-backed Mainers for Clear Power Jobs and stated constructing a large coalition can solely profit the mission.
“The messenger issues,” he stated.
However Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, a distinguished CMP critic, stated there’s a distinction between hiring various consultants and growing grassroots assist, taking a shot on the new rent.
“It simply reveals you there are lots of people on the lookout for good paid work at respectable wages nowadays,” he stated.
BDN author Jessica Piper contributed to this story.