By GLENN ADAMS
AUGUSTA, Maine – As he took criticism from a gay rights group and others, Maine Republican chairman Charles Webster defended party-sponsored campaign ads that highlight EqualityMaine’s funding of Democratic candidates and its support for the campaign for same-day voter registration.
The ads, which appeared in weekly newspapers and as inserts leading up to Tuesday’s referendum, said EqualityMaine, which supports gay rights and same-sex-marriage, donated $5,000 and participated in the petition drive in support of the voter registration question.
The ads are factual and meant to underscore the difference between his party’s constituency and that of the Democrats, Webster said on Wednesday.
A flier distributed before Tuesday’s vote says, “Gay marriage supporters are pushing changes to Maine election laws that will make our system the least secure in the nation.”
In a reference to EqualityMaine, a newspaper ad asks, “Why is this special interest group so interested in repealing Maine election laws?” One of the fliers also asks why EqualityMaine, the Maine State Employees Association union, the American Civil Liberties Union and wealthy hedge fund manager Donald Sussman, husband of Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine, are “fighting against your right to a secure ballot?”
On Tuesday a GOP-backed law requiring registration at least two days before an election was repealed with 60 percent of the vote. The vote reinstated the state’s Election Day registration law.
When the election was over, state Democratic chairman Ben Grant called the ads “homophobic,” and his Wednesday blog challenged GOP state senators to speak out against them.
Also Wednesday, Betsy Smith of EqualityMaine said many Mainers feel it was “homophobic” to single out a gay marriage group among more than a dozen groups that wanted to keep same-day voter registration, and that the ploy backfired.
“You could tell it was a desperate move on their part to try to confuse the issue or to get people who’re against same-sex marriage to oppose voter registration,” Smith said.
The political activist group Maine’s Majority called the ads “shameless and disgusting” and set up an online petition. Andrew Ian Dodge, a tea party member and Republican U.S. Senate hopeful, called for Webster to resign. Webster said that Dodge “is not a real player in Republican politics” and that he will not step down.
Webster said the ads were designed to build support for his party by illustrating the difference between Republicans and Democrats.
“If you are a truck driver or a fisherman, I want to show who represents you, (and) illustrate that this coalition is more liberal than you,” he said. “The EqualityMaine people are an integral part of the coalition the Democratic Party has built.”
Webster said the ads were done with the consent of other party leaders, saying, “I didn’t do it in a vacuum.”