After the campaign: paying off debt

Money Talks
By JEFF INGLIS  |  December 5, 2012

The final days before the November 6 vote on same-sex marriage saw a crazy amount of spending from political-action committees on both sides of the question, which has led both PACs to seek post-election contributions to pay off lingering debt.

In reports filed with the Maine Ethics Commission on October 26, both PACs — Protect Marriage Maine (opposed to marriage equality) and Mainers United for Marriage (in favor) — laid out their pre-election financial positions. At that time, PMM had $535,012.97 in ready cash and $96,006.75 in outstanding debt; MUM had $99,756.50 in cash, and unpaid debts of $139,827.62.

As far as yearly totals, MUM was by far the big spender, with 2012 outlays of $4,214,648.07 million by October 26, compared with total spending of $843,353.35 by PMM as of that date.

Both groups spent even more in the final days, with PMM buying so much advertising that the group ran through all its ready cash and more — ending with roughly $80,000 in unpaid debt, according to group treasurer Penelope Morrell.

While MUM went into the immediate election period with a net $40,000 deficit, MUM spokesman David Farmer says he does not know exactly how much his group needs to raise now. He estimated "it's in the tens of thousands," and not more than $100,000.

How well the groups do in their fundraising now that the battle is over will first become apparent on December 18, which is the next deadline for PAC reports.

If they don't raise the money by then, Matt Marett, who handles PAC registration for the Maine Ethics Commission, says the groups can simply remain active as PACs, and "collect contributions and continue to spend money for whatever they do in the future." They do have to continue reporting according to the commission's schedule, until whenever they decide to terminate operations, Marett says. (A PAC can dissolve itself with debts still on the books; "that's between them and their creditors," Marett says.)

Either group — or both — could also decide to continue to exist, and even change the registration paperwork on file with the commission to allow them to raise and spend money in the future to back candidates or other causes, or even become a standing lobbying organization seeking to influence legislators.

And WHAT HAPPENS IF A PAC DOES END UP WITH A SURPLUS after an election? "There really are not restrictions" on how the money could be spent, Marett says. It could be given to candidates, other PACs, charities, or to organizations that supported them (such as the Christian Civic League in PMM's case, or EqualityMaine in MUM's case).

They could even spend it on a party to thank supporters, or for travel to hear an issue-related speaker, he says, though in response to a hypothetical question about using surplus money at a casino, Marett allows "we may raise a red flag about that."

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