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