Supporters of Maine’s new vaccination law accelerated their fundraising ahead of a March 3 referendum in which voters will decide whether to keep the measure, hauling in a total of $746,000 through Friday.
After a slow start, political action committees that support the law have hit the gas, collecting $688,000 since Jan.1, compared with only $58,000 raised by the end of 2019.
Meanwhile, two PACs working to overturn the new law have raised a total of $527,000, including $50,000 from the Minnesota-based Organic Consumers Association, which is an advocacy group for the organic agriculture industry.
Of the $527,000 collected since the groups were formed last year, $212,000 has been raised since Jan. 1 to support “Yes on 1 to Reject Big Pharma.” The donations and spending are disclosed in campaign finance reports filed with the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices.
The new law, which would take effect in 2021, removes non-medical exemptions for school-required vaccines in an attempt to improve immunization rates and protect children. Those opposed to the law argue it infringes on parental rights.
A “yes” vote would overturn the new law, while a “no” vote keeps it.
Both sides have spent heavily on television advertising, with “No on 1” groups spending $429,000 compared to $119,000 on television for “Yes on 1,” according to campaign finance reports.
Most of the funding for the “no” campaigns are coming from the pharmaceutical industry.
Maine Street Solutions – Protect Our Schools has raised $605,000, with $600,000 of it coming from drug companies or groups, including $250,000 from Pfizer and $250,000 from Merck. Maine Families for Vaccines has generated $141,000 from a variety of sources, including the Maine Hospital Association, which contributed $50,000.
Horror author Stephen King of Bangor gave $20,000 to Maine Families for Vaccines.
Caitlin Gilmet, campaign manager for Maine Families for Vaccines, said the slow start to fundraising could be because donors had become “comfortable.” Since January, donors have responded to the threat of the law being overturned, which would make Maine more susceptible to the return of preventable diseases.
“We have been raising awareness about the scope of the problem,” Gilmet said. “It has become clear that if we don’t act, there are real kids who will be put at real risk. This is not hypothetical.”
Maine had a 5.6 percent kindergarten opt-out rate for non-medical reasons in 2018-19, with pockets of much higher unvaccinated students at some schools, including 46.2 percent at the Maine Coast Waldorf School in Freeport and 33.3 percent at Kennebunkport Consolidated School.
Maine has the highest rates of pertussis in the nation, with 446 cases in 2018 and 383 in 2019, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The 2018 rate of 33.16 cases per 100,000 was more than eight times the national average.
If the law stands, Maine would join California, New York, Mississippi and West Virginia as the only states that forbid all non-medical opt-outs.
Cara Sacks, campaign manager for the “Yes on 1 to Reject Big Pharma” group, said their fundraising represents a “true grassroots” of small donors.
“Our opponents, on the other hand, are funded by an overwhelming majority from corporate and out-of-state money,” Sacks said.
The “No on 1” campaign has been running television ads featuring doctors and children, while the “Yes on 1” campaign’s advertising includes ads on Portland’s buses and bus shelters.