Independent Maine Senate candidate Angus King’s fiscal record during his eight-year tenure as the state’s governor is under fire from Maine Republicans and outside pro-business groups and becoming a major factor in the three-way race.
The criticism has inspired his allies in the media to come to his defense and forced King to risk his independent image by raising money with prominent Democratic donors.
King attended a fundraiser held on his behalf by Democratic heavyweights Tony and Heather Podesta July 18 in Washington, D.C.
"He has to raise money to defend himself—as we saw just this week, an outside group, with clearly no idea about the challenges in the Maine business community, can come in and buy inexpensive advertising for negative ads," King campaign spokeswoman Crystal Canney told the Free Beacon.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce began airing a 30-second ad last week in Maine depicting the independent candidate as the "King of Spending." The ad is part of an approximately $200,000 buy by the Chamber.
"We expect more of this out-of-state special interest money to flood into Maine and we need to be prepared to respond," Canney said.
King is "dependent on big-government solutions," U.S. Chamber of Commerce national political director Rob Engstrom told the Free Beacon.
"He has questions to answer about fiscal management and a record of reckless spending. He would fit right in with those in the Senate who consistently vote against the business community," Engstrom said.
"The health care law? King supports it. Energy expansion? King opposes it," Engstrom said.
Canney listed a number of King’s initiatives during his governorship that she said demonstrate his pro-business credentials, including helping to bring a National semiconductor plant to Maine and "helping to save jobs" at Bath Iron Works. That company’s former president, the late Duane "Buzz" Fitzgerald, was a major King supporter whose employees contributed greatly to King’s last gubernatorial campaign in 1998.
"The Summers campaign is currently benefiting [maybe] from a major ad buy by a group which steadfastly won't identify its donors or their affiliations," Canney said, referring to King’s Republican opponent Charlie Summers, Maine’s current secretary of state.
"The U.S. Chamber does not factor in partisanship," said Engstrom, who pointed out that the organization has endorsed both Democrats and Republicans during this election cycle. "Our job is to measure candidates based on their positions on business issues."
The Maine newspaper Morning Sentinel ran a piece Tuesday entitled, "Business leaders defend Angus King from US Chamber of Commerce." The article prominently featured Hancock Lumber CEO Kevin Hancock as coming to King’s defense and quoted Hancock throughout.
King sits on the board of directors of Hancock Lumber and Hancock is an Angus King campaign contributor this election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The Morning Sentinel is owned and operated by MaineToday Media, in which King’s personal friend Donald Sussman owns a 75 percent stake. Numerous Maine political observers have said Sussman-controlled media outlets have provided favorable coverage to the King campaign.
Hancock was also prominently quoted in an Associated Press article, "Maine businesses criticize attacks in Senate race," which was picked up online by the Boston Globe and RealClearPolitics, among others.
King’s fiscal record from his eight years as an independent governor between 1995 and 2003 is the focus of Republican criticism.
Maine state Rep. Paul Davis, who had breakfast once a week with then-Governor King during Davis’ four years as Senate Republican leader, said King was a kind man who made a series of flawed policy decisions.
"I remember clearly, he was controlled by the Democrats and he had to give a lot to the Democrats so he could get a budget through," Davis said.
"The first year I was in the Senate we had a $300 million surplus and he spent it all. Then he borrowed $300 million and spent all that. He raised the gas tax and the registration fee for cars in the beginning of his second term," Davis said.
"I’m sure you won’t read about that in the media," Davis added.
"He left us with a $1 billion shortfall and doubled welfare spending," Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster told the Free Beacon.
The King campaign disputes Republican analysis of King’s fiscal policies and takes issue with the definition of the term "deficit."
"Governor King did not inherit a budget surplus," Canney said. "There was a significant ‘structural gap’ and a very challenging budget when he entered office. There was also such a structural gap when he left office, but it's important to understand that this term does not refer to a deficit (spending more than you have) but is instead a theoretical calculation based upon projected expenditures as if all programs and laws on the books are fully funded—something which hasn't happened in decades."
"The statement of a ‘structural gap’ is a fiction," said State Budget Solutions editor Frank Keegan to the Free Beacon. "The legislators structured it; they can restructure it."
Most of the damage to Maine’s budget surplus occurred during a two-year period in King’s second term, state Rep. Davis noted. Local reporting from this period used the terms "surplus" and "deficit."
King’s budget negotiators were tasked with helping to "divvy up" a $340 million "surplus," plus Maine’s $100 million share of a national tobacco settlement, the Portland Press Herald reported in April 2000.
After a "lengthy budget battle" King and the Democratic state legislature reached an agreement on how to "allocate" the surplus money in April 2000.
Maine’s "deficit in the budget" stood between $110 million and $115 million by June 2002, and experts set the "projected deficit" facing King’s successor at $600 million or more, the Press Herald reported in June 2002.
The Maine legislature held a special session in November 2002 to address the "$240 million hole in the state budget," the paper stated.
The results of King’s reported big-spending policies forced him to change his position on tax hikes.
Despite his promise not to raise taxes, King reversed course as he was preparing to leave office, and said he believed tax hikes "will be needed in order to avoid unacceptably deep cuts in state spending," according to the Press Herald.