Because Open Maine Politics follows the Maine State Legislature in substance, it changes with each new legislature. In the coming weeks, the main page of Open Maine Politics will be in flux as it shifts to present the legislators, legislation and legislative actions of the 128th Maine State Legislature. The legislative database from the 127th Maine State Legislature will be preserved in here, and the 126th Maine State Legislative database will remain available here.

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Number of bills introduced and number of roll call votes on bills in the 127th Maine State Legislature, week by week, through June 29 2015:

Chart showing volume of bill inroductions and bill votes in the Maine State Legislature, 2015

Track just one and you’d get a picture of increasingly frenetic activity or increasing lassitude. Track both and you can see a busy legislature with shifting priorities.

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Since the beginning of the year, Open Maine Politics pages have featured the text of bills as introduced. But as a legislator has pointed out, the text of a bill as amended is so much more important for a citizen to know, since that amended version may change the original bill quite a bit. Unfortunately, the website of the Maine State Legislature does not make available the text of pending bills as amended, but it does make the text of adopted amendments available. Starting this week, we’ll be noting the existence of adopted amendments where the exist and making their text available as needed to add more current context to the original text of bills.

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The following is a list of leadership PACs for the Maine State Legislature and a description of their activity in 2014.  A “leadership PAC” is a political fundraising committee led by a member of the Maine State Legislature; by collecting funds from various sources and distributing them to other political committees and legislators, a legislator heading a leadership PAC can gain influence.  Data regarding leadership PACs are derived from the Maine Ethics Commission website and are valid for 2014. Links in the table lead to detailed information about PAC contributions and legislative records.

Leadership PAC Legislative Officers Contributions from Individuals Contributions from Non-Profits, Businesses and Political Committees Number of Contributions to Other Committees
Alfond Business Community & Democracy PAC Senator Justin Alfond $128,008.00 $100,850.00 2
ANNE PAC Senator Anne Haskell $3,075.00 $38,200.00 2
Bangor Leadership PAC Representatives Aaron Frey and Adam Goode $2,575.00 $4,900.00 0
Capital Leadership PAC Senator Roger Katz $567.50 $85,582.12 1
Charting Maine’s Future Senator Garrett Mason $17,250.00 $22,425.00 4
DIAMOND PAC Senator Bill Diamond $5,080.00 $33,100.00 1
DION FOR MAINE Representative Mark Dion $300.00 $9,625.00 1
Empowering Maine Leadership PAC Representative Barry Hobbins $3,000.00 $41,750.00 6
Eves Leadership PAC Representative Mark Eves $4,025.00 $45,800.00 1
Gideon Leadership PAC Representative Sara Gideon $6,650.00 $17,700.00 1
GO MAINE PAC Representative Andrew McLean $2,165.00 $2,550.00 2
House Democratic Campaign Committee Representative Mark Eves $274,180.05 $381,798.00 1
House Republican Majority Fund Representatives Ellie Espling and Kenneth Fredette $4,375.00 $191,179.95 4
Leadership for Maine’s Future Representative Kenneth Fredette $1,775.00 $51,774.00 3
Leading to a Balanced Maine PAC Senator Thomas Saviello $4,500.00 $20,800.00 6
Maine Senate Republican Majority Senators Andre Cushing,Michael Thibodeau, and Garrett Mason $5,832.30 $384,492.59 6
McCabe Leadership PAC Representative Jeff McCabe $6,260.00 $29,796.25 3
Prosperity for Maine’s Future Representative Matthew Pouliot $1.00 $2,125.00 2
RESPECT MAINE Senator Andre Cushing $6,800.00 $150,200.00 2
Rotundo Leadership PAC Representative Peggy Rotundo $4,280.00 $6,437.37 1
Senate Democratic Campaign Committee Senators Justin Alfond andDawn Hill $286,662.00 $545,100.00 2
Senate Republican President’s Fund Senator Michael Thibodeau $310.00 $22,500.00 0
Star City Leadership PAC Representative Robert Saucier $1,825.00 $1,550.00 2
Still Fed Up With Taxes Representative Jeffrey Timberlake $30,500.00 $27,404.00 1
The Dawn Hill PAC Senator Dawn Hill $3,375.00 $26,425.00 2
Women’s Leadership Fund Representative Deborah Sanderson $375.00 $9,075.00 1
Working Families PAC Representative Diane Russell $8,688.44 $1,500.00 0

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Andrew McGill of the National Journal posted a message to Twitter yesterday, telling an indirect tale about campaign contributions in politics:

Andrew McGill's screen capture of Federal Expenditure Data for American Elections: rom 2000 to 2014, the file sizes of expenditure data per cycle has systematically increased.

McGill’s caption: “One way to tell political campaigns are spending a lot more money than they used to: file sizes.”

Can the same be said for Maine? Here are the sizes of the download files for campaign contributions as prepared by the Maine Ethics Commission, by year (2008 is the earliest year for which the Commission provides data):

File Sizes of Maine Ethics Commission Datasets on Campaign Contributions, byYear, from 2008-2014

The trend in Maine does not head upward over the years as simply as it does at the federal level. Certain off-years for elections create understandably smaller campaign contribution files, and 2014 contributions generate the largest file size of all but the year 2009 provides a noticeable early spike. Is the 2009 spike perhaps produced by some difference in file structure: perhaps a different file format, or the use of more text in comments? No; the trend is matched if we look into each of the files and count the actual number of campaign contributions made by year:

Number of Maine Campaign Contributions by Year, 2008-2014. Source: Maine Ethics Commission

Why were so many campaign contributions made in the off year of 2009?  That was the year of a contentious ballot question attempting to legalize same-sex marriage in Maine (the 2009 ballot question failed, but a 2012 ballot question succeeded).  The average size of an itemized contribution in 2009 was the smallest across all years, suggesting active fundraising campaigns that reached into the grassroots:

Average Dollars per Itemized Campaign Contribution, in Maine, 2008-2014, Source: Maine Ethics Commission

While the number of campaign contributions in Maine reached their highest count in 2014, the average dollars provided per itemized contribution was among the lowest of recent years.  Indeed, the two variables appear to be negatively related to one another; when a relative few contributors donate to candidates, the dollar amount of contributions tends to be relatively large.

Finally, we can ask from where contributions are originating.  Are residents of Maine contributing to Maine political campaigns, or is money streaming in from elsewhere?  The answer is variable and not clearly showing a trend over the progression of years:

Graph: Percent of Campaign Dollars Coming from Maine. Source: Maine Ethics Commission

There have been years in which a majority of campaign contribution dollars come from outside the state that politicians claim to represent.  2014 was not one of those years.

An important caveat: this data does not include information on independent expenditures made by outside groups on behalf of ballot questions and political candidates.  As of June 2015, the Maine Ethics Commission does not provide an explicit or consistent mechanism to track these expenditures; that kind of campaign money remains obscure.

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Just as the legislative process never truly ends, so the Open Maine Politics project is too a perpetual work in progress.  I’m always looking for new kinds of information to bring into the mix and provide further context for the actions of legislators and the fate of bills in the Maine State Legislature.

This week, I’ve added a new feature to legislator profiles: when the Portland Press Herald or Kennebec Journal mentions a legislator in one of its recent news stories, that legislator’s profile will feature a link to the story.  Not all legislators have news stories written about them, but it’s important for Maine citizens to know when they do.  This is one way for us to be more privy to the civic conversation around the State House.

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Looking into the Senate Chamber of the Maine State Legislature, March 2015In the Maine State Legislature, most bills are introduced with a primary sponsor — a legislator who is responsible for the idea behind a bill. On the other hand, cosponsors (usually up to ten in number but occasionally more) do not introduce a bill but sign their names to the bill as an indication of their strong support.  Sponsorship of bills is one of the primary activities of a state legislature, but not all legislators are equally active in this regard.

In the early months of the new 127th Maine state legislature, these are the ten most active sponsors of bills (not counting symbolic sentiments or resolutions):

1. Senator Tom Saviello (R-Franklin County): 164 sponsorships (47 as primary sponsor)
2. Senator David Burns (R-Washington County): 153 sponsorships (28 as primary sponsor)
3. Senator Paul Davis (R-Piscataquis County): 140 sponsorships (25 as primary sponsor)
4. Senator Roger Katz (R-Kennebec County): 129 sponsorships (23 as primary sponsor)
5. Senator Nathan Libby (D-Androscoggin County): 124 sponsorships (22 as primary sponsor)
6. Senator Andre Cushing (R-Penobscot County): 112 sponsorships (28 as primary sponsor)
7. Senator Eric Brakey (R-Androscoggin County): 108 sponsorships (27 as primary sponsor)
8. Representative Joyce Maker (R-Calais): 108 sponsorships (9 as primary sponsor)
9. Senator John Patrick (D-Oxford County): 106 sponsorships (12 as primary sponsor)
10. Senator Brian Langley (R-Hancock County): 101 sponsorships (12 as primary sponsor)

In contrast, these are the ten least active sponsors of bills to date:

1. Representative Pinny Beebe-Center (D-Rockland): 7 sponsorships (0 as primary sponsor)
2. Representative Gary Sukeforth (I-Appleton): 7 sponsorships (3 as primary sponsor)
3. Representative Lloyd Herrick (R-Paris): 12 sponsorships (0 as primary sponsor)
4. Representative Wayne Mitchell (non-voting member, Penobscot Nation): 12 sponsorships (5 as primary sponsor)
5. Representative Gay Grant (D-Gardiner): 15 sponsorships (0 as primary sponsor)
6. Representative Christopher Babbidge (D-Kennebunk): 15 sponsorships (2 as primary sponsor)
7. Representative Stedman Seavey (R-Kennebunkport): 15 sponsorships (2 as primary sponsor)
8. Representative Martin Grohman (D-Biddeford): 16 sponsorships (0 as primary sponsor)
9. Representative Stephanie Hawke (R-Boothbay Harbor): 16 sponsorships (1 as primary sponsor)
10. Representative Tim Theriault (R-China): 17 sponsorships (5 as primary sponsor)

The average number of sponsorships across all 189 members of the Maine state legislature, in case you’re curious, is 47.7.

Taken together, the ten most active legislators have contributed 1,245 bill sponsorships, and among them introduced 233 bills. To reiterate, this total does not count symbolic sentiments and resolutions — these are legislative documents that would change Maine law. On the other hand, the ten least active legislators have to date contributed just 132 bill sponsorships and introduced 18 bills. No legislator has been entirely inactive on this front, and some legislators may have good reasons for their inactivity (the most clear among these being Rep. Beebe-Center, who won a special election and was not sworn in until March 17, long after the early period in a legislative session during which most bills are submitted). Still, the contrast is striking.

Two differences between the most active and least active legislators are immediately apparent. Every one of the ten least active Maine legislators are members of the Maine House, while all but one of the ten most active legislators are members of the Maine Senate. Only four of the ten least active Maine legislators are Republicans, while eight of the ten most active legislators are Republicans. A more subtle difference (which you can verify by checking these legislators’ Open Maine profiles) involves social media activity. Of the ten least active legislators in sponsorship, only one (Rep. Grohman, as @mgrohman) has an active Twitter account…

Tweet of Rep. Martin Grohman on March 18, 2015 posted from the Maine Tourism Show

… while in contrast six of the ten most active legislators in sponsorship maintain active Twitter accounts.

Do these patterns hold across the Maine state legislature overall? The following scatterplots tell the tale graphically:

Average Number of Bill Sponsorships, by Chamber of the Maine State Legislature, as of April 18 2015

A substantive, statistically significant effect (p<.05) of chamber on bill sponsorship activity is clearly visible; on average, Maine Senators are sponsors or cosponsors of 41.5 more bills than Maine Representatives.  Part of this effect is due to the tendency of bills to feature cosponsorship from both chambers of the legislature (since there are fewer Senators to share Senate representation in cosponsorship, Senators cosponsor more bills), but members of the Senate also tend to introduce more bills as the primary sponsor.

Plot of Bill Sponsorship by Twitter Activity in the Maine Legislature as of 4-18-15

A much smaller but statistically significant (p<.05) difference in bill sponsorship can be seen according to social media activity: active Twitter users in the legislature do sponsor more bills.  This difference would be accentuated if we bent the definition of “active Twitter user” a bit; Senator Tom Saviello, the most active bill sponsor in the 127th Maine State Legislature to date, started up different Twitter accounts in 2011 and in 2012.  These accounts are not active, however; he has not posted to them for more than a year.

Number of Bill Sponsorships by Party in the Maine State Legislature, as of April 18 2015

On the other hand, there is no statistically significant difference overall in the average number of sponsorships by Democrats and by Republicans.  A few Democrats and Independents have especially low levels of sponsorship, and a few Republicans have especially high levels of sponsorship, but the bulk of Republicans and Democrats hold comparable levels of bill sponsorship.  In other words, the outliers identified in the Top 10 and Bottom 10 lists at the top of this post are not reflective of their parties in general.

 

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Maine State House, Winter 2015Open Maine: Making Politics Social
A Presentation in the Research and Pedagogy Colloquium Series

James Cook, Assistant Professor of Social Science
Wednesday, April 22, 12 noon
University of Maine at Augusta Katz Library

“Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories.” — Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia

For most of Maine’s history, the records of its state politics have been officially accessible but practically unavailable.  Before the internet age, information about the legislature was kept in side rooms and libraries at the State House in Augusta, making our collective decisions available only to those who had the time and money to stalk about the stacks.

In recent decades, the website of the Maine State Legislature has taken great strides toward making information about the Pine Tree State’s legislature, our legislation and our legislators available to all.  Some roadblocks remain, however:

  • Maine legislative information isn’t easily shared through e-mail, Facebook, Twitter or other forms of social media;
  • Maine legislative information isn’t easily mixed and downloaded for analysis by academics, journalists, citizen bloggers or the curious;
  • It isn’t easy for us to engage in conversation about legislation and legislators in the same environment where raw information is made available;
  • It isn’t easy for us to create, post and share our assessments of our legislators based on transparent and verifiable standards.

This RaP colloquium at the University of Maine at Augusta will present the result of a Presidential Research Grant kick-starting Open Maine, an online civic engagement and education project to make Maine legislative politics shareable, mixable, downloadable, conversable, assessable and transparent. Presentation of the new platform and research outcomes will be followed by discussion and a brainstorm on future development. Students, staff, faculty and members of the public are welcome.

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Every week, members of the Maine State Legislature engage in talk with constituents, with members of the media, and with one another.  As social media use has expanded, a fair amount of that talk is now recorded for anyone with an Internet connection to see.  Twitter has become an especially interesting social media platform for three reasons:

  1. Every post is public by default.
  2. The 140-character limit forces users to get right to the point.
  3. With a simple use of the @ character, Twitter users can speak directly to one another.

There are 57 members of the 127th Maine State Legislature who have signed up for a Twitter account and posted with it at least once in the last year.  Which legislators have been active on Twitter in the last week?  To whom have they been speaking?  And what have they been talking about?

Twitter activity of Maine State Legislators in the Week of April 5-11 2015, represented in a social network graph

The image you see above displays patterns in the communications of the 26 Maine state legislators active on Twitter last week, April 5-11.  Each legislator is indicated in either blue (for Democrats) or red (for Republicans), and the size of a legislator’s circular marker indicates how many Twitter posts (“tweets”) a legislator made in the past week.  The high mark for communication volume last week goes to Rep. Diane Russell of Portland, who tweets as “misswrite” and made 54 posts to Twitter in seven days.   Rep. Drew Gattine of Westbrook is a somewhat distant second, with 34 posts in the last week.  Three of the legislators you see depicted above — Republican Ken Fredette of Newport and Democrats Justin Alfond and Mark Eves — posted no tweets themselves this week but are included in the network graph because Reps. Russell and Gattine tweeted to them.  A total of 232 tweets were contributed by the 23 tweeting legislators (up from 176 the week before), and only five of them involved conversations with fellow Maine legislators. 7 legislators, both Republicans and Democrats, posted to Twitter in ways that didn’t mention anybody else. In social network parlance, these are isolates, and they are unconnected to anyone else in the network above.

As you can see, there are a number of Twitter users outside the legislature who are included in the network; legislators actually devote most of their Twitter activity to communication directed outside the legislature.  I’ve labeled those Twitter accounts who were on the receiving end of Maine legislative tweets last week, and with one exception these network “outsiders” are actually insiders, politically active individuals or organizations that help broker power in Maine state government.  These include Twitter accounts for state news outlets, for the Maine Democratic Party and Maine Republican Party, for the Twitter account of Maine Governor Paul LePage, and for accounts of communications directors for the parties or party-related groups:

  • Matthew Gagnon, CEO of the Maine Heritage Policy Center
  • Rachel Irwin, Communications Director for the Maine Democratic Party
  • Jodi Quintero, Communications Director for House Speaker Mark Eves
  • Rob Poindexter, Communications Director for the Maine House Republicans

David Murchison, the other individual mentioned by more than one legislator last week, posted an image of a crucifix to mark the Christian holiday of Easter, an image that Senator Amy Volk and Rep. John Picchiotti retweeted.

Easter was tied as one of the most popular subjects of legislator Tweets last week, mentioned in 8 Twitter posts.  Also tied for #1 was the subject of taxes.  The top five subjects of Maine legislators’ tweets last week were:

Easter: 8 tweets

Taxes: 8 tweets

Barack Obama: 5 tweets

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: 5 tweets

Welfare: 3 tweets

How is it that in 232 Twitter posts the most common subjects only appear 3-8 times?  The answer is that the subjects of tweets by legislators in Maine are incredibly diverse, from Rep. John Picchiotti’s call for Mainers to help a Waterville family via a “dime drive”…

… to Rep. Ryan Fecteau’s applause for Barack Obama’s stance on gay conversion therapy…

… to Sen. Amy Volk’s reaction to an early spring weather report…

If roll call votes represent the tightest moment in legislative politics, when members of the Maine House and Senate are expected to choose sides and march in lock step regarding an agreed-upon agenda, social media talk might represent the loosest moment, when Maine’s representatives get to decide what they’d like to talk about, what they’d like to say, and how they’d like to say it.


Update, 4/14/15: If raw counts of phrases used by legislators in the text of their tweets last week reveals a long list of subjects, is it possible that a list of subjects of those tweets might be more concentrated? Well, yes and no. To assess this, let’s look at the use of hashtags (#), the way that users self-organize Twitter into a bunch of ever-shifting subjects. Here are the hashtags used more than once in tweets posted by Maine state legislators in the second week of April:

#mepolitics 49 uses
#betterdeal4maine 10 uses
#letmatthewteach 3 uses
#fitn 3 uses
#maine 3 uses
#mepoiltics 3 uses
#morningreport 3 uses
#nhpolitics 3 uses
#springinmaine 3 uses
#easter2015 2 uses
#endconversiontherapy 2 uses
#happyeaster 2 uses
#medicalmarijuana 2 uses
#sunspots 2 uses

#mepolitics is, hands down, the most popular hashtag used by legislators last week, and that’s no surprise, since it is also the most popular hashtag for the curation of posts on Twitter about Maine politicos and Maine policy.  #betterdeal4maine refers to legislative Democrats’ introduction of an alternative to Governor Paul LePage’s tax plan.  Some of the other more inscrutable hashtags include #fitn (First In The Nation — a reference to an upcoming GOP conference in New Hampshire) and #letmatthewteach, an activist hashtag supporting Matt Eledge, a Catholic school teacher who was recently fired for being gay.  But although there is greater consensus at least for the top two hashtags, there is also a “long tail,” to use the vocabulary of statisticians.  Another 28 hashtags were used just once by legislators last week, another indication of a true diversity in topics of discussion.

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The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, which also refers to itself as the Maine Ethics Commission, helpfully provides a webpage at which any citizen may download campaign contribution data reaching all the way back in time to 2008.  This kind of data sharing has become an essential component of responsive state government.  It’s also helpful that the Commission has provided a key to describe the kinds of information it provides in its dataset.

One of the most important pieces of information to obtain about a campaign contribution is its source.  Is a candidate receiving funds from individuals, political party committees, political action committees, or businesses?  To distinguish between these different kinds of contributions, the Commission includes the variable “Receipt Source Type”:

Excerpt from the dataset key page of the Maine Ethics Commission

I’ve been working over the past week with campaign contribution data from the 2014 election cycle to characterize contributions to members of the current 127th Maine State Legislature on the main Open Maine Politics website.  Unfortunately, the more I work with the dataset, the more I notice that the “Receipt Source” variable is inconsistent.  Let’s take reports of contributions from Citizens for Justice in Maine, Inc.  This group is no fly-by-night organization; it is publicly referred to as a Political Action Committee (PAC) for trial lawyers at least as far back as 1992, and filings indicate it has registered with the state as a PAC since 1988.  The Commission profile page for Citizens for Justice in Maine also firmly declares it to be a PAC.  But entries in the downloaded dataset for 2014, all describing the same entity with the same address, describe campaign contributions from Citizens for Justice in Maine as different kinds of a committee… or provide no description at all:

ReceiptAmount ReceiptDate LastName ReceiptSourceType
100 9/16/2014 CITIZENS FOR JUSTICE IN MAINE Nonprofit Organization
3000 10/17/2014 CITIZENS FOR JUSTICE IN MAINE Commercial Source
500 11/3/2014 CITIZENS FOR JUSTICE IN MAINE INC Nonprofit Organization
500 1/6/2014 CITIZENS FOR JUSTICE IN MAINE, INC.
500 1/6/2014 CITIZENS FOR JUSTICE IN MAINE, INC.
1500 4/18/2014 CITIZENS FOR JUSTICE IN MAINE, INC.
3000 6/6/2014 CITIZENS FOR JUSTICE IN MAINE, INC.
2500 6/9/2014 Citizens For Justice in Maine, Inc. Political Action Committee
1000 8/13/2014 Citizens for Justice in Maine, Inc. Commercial Source
100 9/16/2014 CITIZENS FOR JUSTICE IN MAINE, INC.
1500 9/16/2014 CITIZENS FOR JUSTICE IN MAINE, INC.
100 9/17/2014 CITIZENS FOR JUSTICE IN MAINE, INC.
250 9/17/2014 CITIZENS FOR JUSTICE IN MAINE, INC.
150 9/18/2014 CITIZENS FOR JUSTICE IN MAINE, INC.
500 9/26/2014 CITIZENS FOR JUSTICE IN MAINE, INC.
3000 10/17/2014 CITIZENS FOR JUSTICE IN MAINE, INC.
2000 10/21/2014 CITIZENS FOR JUSTICE IN MAINE, INC.
2000 10/24/2014 CITIZENS FOR JUSTICE IN MAINE, INC.
250 10/30/2014 CITIZENS FOR JUSTICE IN MAINE, INC.
1000 10/30/2014 CITIZENS FOR JUSTICE IN MAINE, INC.
1000 11/1/2014 CITIZENS FOR JUSTICE IN MAINE, INC.
500 12/1/2014 CITIZENS FOR JUSTICE IN MAINE, INC.
500 12/2/2014 CITIZENS FOR JUSTICE IN MAINE, INC.

As I work further to integrate campaign contribution data into the Open Maine Politics website, I’ve been repeatedly finding this kind of inconsistency in “Receipt Source.”  For other variables such as city and name, variation in spelling (such as the occasional “AUGSUTA, ME”) makes it important to check contributions individually and to search for conributions using multiple variables, such as name and address, rather than relying on one variable alone.

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