Screenshot from one of two Maine Ethics Finance reports for the Chamberlain Project BQC.
Portland – The Chamberlain Project BQC sounds like a homegrown Maine organization to those who appreciate Maine history, but a look at state financial disclosures shows something else entirely.
The BQC, short for Ballot Question Committee at the Maine Ethics Commission, has received a total of six contributions approaching $300,000 since it was created in late 2017, and all of the contributions were from groups outside Maine.
Action Now Initiative ($138,500 in two contributions)
Action Now Initiative is a Texas based 501(c)(4) non-profit started by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.
John Arnold was a celebrated commodity trader at Enron, leaving Enron with the largest bonus given to any employee, according to Fortune. Arnold used that bonus to started his own hedge-fund, Centaurus Energy.
As far as political advocacy, Action Now Initiative has worked on increasing soda taxes in Colorado and California, and supported efforts to reform state pension programs in states such as Rhode Island, in partnership with Democrat State Treasurer Gina Raimondo working with the state legislature, and in California through a referendum ballot question.
Level The Playing Field ($113,000 in three contributions)
Level The Playing Field is a “527 political organization” operating out of Alexandria, Virginia. The group appears to be solely funded by Peter Ackerman, the Managing Director of Rockport Capital, a Washington D.C. based venture capital firm. Ackerman also is known as the former chairman of Americans Elect.
Level The Playing Field currently involved in a lawsuit against FEC to allow minor party candidates to be allowed in the Presidential debates. In 2010, the group was active in California urging voters to “vote against” Meg Whitman for Governor. Whitman, the former CEO of Ebay, ran for Governor of California as a Republican.
Katherine Gehl Trust ($30,000)
Katherine Gehl is the former CEO of Wisconsin based Gehl Foods, an international food manufacturer.
Before authoring a recent Harvard study on competitiveness in the American political system, Gehl served as an Obama appointee to the Board of Directors of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. The OPIC is an agency of the U.S. Government that uses private American investment to advance American foreign policy.
Earlier in her career, she worked in Chicago Public Schools and as a Special Assistant to Mayor Richard Daley (D-Chicago).
The website OpenSecrets.org says Gehl served as a bundler to President Obama in 2008.
Blurred lines between politics and “charitable and educational”
The Chamberlain Project BQC does not have an easily identified website dedicated to their referendum work and advertising campaigns but the website morevoice.org contains a statement that it is owned by the Chamberlain Project Foundation, which it says is a non-profit “only for charitable and educational purposes.”
However, the site lists two staffers at the non-profit organization who also show up reports filed with the Maine Ethics Commission as receiving “non-employee compensation” from the BQC.
In addition to apparently sharing staff between a dark money non-profit and a political BQC, both the non-profit foundation and the BQC list the same South Portland P.O. Box as their address. The non-profit tracking website Guidestar says The Chamberlain Project Foundation’s IRS non-profit status is classified as an (R40) which indicates their work is “voter education registration” but makes no mention of the charitable purposes promoted at the Chamberlain Project Foundation’s website.
No financial information about the Chamberlain Project Foundation was available.
Under state law, entities that spend money supporting candidates for office are required to disclose their top three donors in certain advertising, but referendums are exempt from that disclosure requirement.