OpEd

Out-of-State Donors Have Contributed Thousands to Political Action Committee ‘Enough Is Enough’ Ahead of Portland Municipal Election

A photograph capturing an ‘Enough Is Enough’ political poster in the foreground with Portland’s Eastern Promenade Park in the background. Photo courtesy of Elora Griswold.

Portland voters will have eight recommendations from the Portland Charter Commission and five citizen initiatives to decide on in the upcoming municipal election. While all citizen initiatives have received some media attention over the past few months, one, in particular, has caused quite a stir. Question D––one of four ballot questions introduced by Maine DSA’s Campaign for a Livable Portland– would raise wages for all workers in Portland to $18 an hour. In response to Question D, out-of-state donors (such as Doordash and Uber) and big local names (such as the Southern Maine Landlords Association or Steve DiMillo) have collectively donated over half a million dollars to a Political Action Committee (PAC) named ‘Enough is Enough’, which was established in early August to encourage Portland voters to vote ‘no’ to every ballot question in the November municipal election.

If Question D were to pass, minimum wage in Portland would rise from $13 an hour to $15 immediately and then be increased by $1.50 every year until it hits $18 in 2025. Tipped service workers, delivery couriers (like Doordash or Uber drivers), and other gig-based positions would still be allowed to accept tips that would go on top of their hourly wage. The initiative also calls to establish a City Department of Labor to protect workers’ rights, which is significant given Portland currently has no department to enforce labor laws preventing wage theft or unsafe working conditions. 

While many locals look forward to Question D’s passage, some groups have voiced their discontent. The PAC ‘Enough Is Enough’ has arguably been more vocal than any opposition organization, and have been strategically using their fundraising money to discredit the ballot questions through clever, high-production value marketing throughout the summer and fall. Hundreds of comments from Portland locals can be found under their social media advertisements. As the PAC writes on its website, many comments in support of ‘Enough Is Enough’ were from individuals claiming Maine’s DSA is a group of “out-of-state activists…proposing changes that will make it harder to live and work in Portland”. Those opposed to the advertisements questioned the funding behind them and lack of hard evidence behind claims made, such as Maine’s DSA directly causing high housing costs or inflation of grocery bills. The easiest way to understand these arguments and how ‘Enough Is Enough’ has been spreading disinformation on the ballot initiatives is to dissect their advertisements, which appeal to emotion and provide no evidence to back up claims. 

An ‘Enough Is Enough’ campaign advertisement posted on the PAC’s Youtube channel.

In an advertisement published on their Youtube channel, a narrator reads, “In Portland, inflation is skyrocketing. The cost of gas and groceries are way up, and people are feeling anxious. They [the ballot initiatives] will drastically change city government, drive housing costs up, and make it harder to live and work here. Imagine Portland without cruise ships. Imagine Portland without ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft. They want to get rid of food trucks and are even coming after tipped workers. These changes will hurt all of us. That’s why Portland is standing up and saying Enough Is Enough. Join your friends and neighbors this fall by saying Enough Is Enough–vote no on all Portland ballot questions.” 

These advertisements  never reconcile that Question D does not call for the elimination of tips but rather for them to be put on top of a raised minimum wage that helps match the pace of inflation. Additionally, the advertisements suggest Maine’s DSA is the primary threat facing food trucks. However, it’s been reported that concerns from homeowners on Munjoy Hill at an April 2022 Safety & Transportation city council meeting were the driving force behind the city manager’s decision to limit food truck access to certain areas of the city.

It’s also important to note that the production value in these advertisements is surprisingly high and pose a real threat in swaying publication perception on the ballot questions. The quality is easy to understand after looking at their October quarterly campaign finance report, which reports the PAC has received over a half million dollars in donations since its creation in early August 2022.

A deep dive into the report illuminates which forces are using the PAC as a media machine. One of the most significant donations came from Seaforth Housing at $25,000, a real estate development company based out of San Francisco, California. There were other large donations from out-of-state, such as $7,500 from Deering Property Development LLC in West Seneca NY or $50,000 for Uber Technologies Inc.  Another considerable donation of $15,000 came from DiMillo’s restaurant owner and manager, Steve DiMillo. The Southern Maine Landlords Association contributed another $15,000 chunk, and a whopping $25,000 came from The Portland Community Chamber. 

These are just a few donations from the lengthy list of contributors, which are primarily landlords, interest groups, and big gig corporations. Further, the national lobbying group for chain restaurants, the National Restaurant Association, Uber, and DoorDash have contributed over $100,000 to the PAC alone. The quarterly report lists that, in total, approximately $94,841 was donated by local private citizens, $200,977 came from local businesses, and $132,552 came from out-of-state contributors.

A graphic comparing different donations to ‘Enough Is Enough’. Graphic courtesy of Elora Griswold.

The marketing psychology behind the language used in these adverts also demands attention. The advertisements call for viewers to “join your friends and neighbors” and to vote “no on all”, encouraging groupthink towards complex issues that should be researched rather than rejected full-stop. 

According to Oxford’s Dictionary of Business and Management, groupthink is the “tendency to drift into ill-conceived policies or decisions without adequate debate. This can result from various pressures, including the illusion of ingroup superiority and the wish to achieve consensus and avoid painful disagreements”. The PAC appeals to the human tendency for groupthink by giving the voter permission to join a team and avoid ‘painful disagreements,’ such as justifying the aforementioned list of donors backing the PAC or acknowledging some ballot initiatives are non-divisive.

For example, Question 1 “adds a land acknowledgment to address and respect Portland’s past.” Which is easier? Knowing you should vote no to all questions or adequately researching each question and realizing some do not address housing costs, minimum wage, cruise ships, or workers’ rights at all? 

There have been other organizations accused of spreading propaganda, including Doordash. Portland locals recently began complaining about emails they have received directly from Doordash opposing Question D on Portland’s municipal ballot. The following email was submitted by local Sampson Spadafore, in which Doordash informed him that “early voting begins on Monday, October 10 for voters across Portland” and he should “vote NO on Measure D to protect valuable earning opportunities.”

The email also asserts that the initiative would “force Dashers and other-app based drivers to become employees” without acknowledging that the company’s updated pay model includes minimum pay of just $2 per delivery job. Doordash’s choice as a company to send the email out to Portland customers also begs the question–should companies be allowed to target local elections across the US in their email marketing campaigns? 

Although opponents continually struggle to frame Question D as a change to minimum wage and a threat to delivery services, Portland voters should not be fooled come November. Question D will ensure gig workers for Uber, and other delivery services make a fair wage. After all, drivers often have to pay for their gas and car maintenance, leaving them with little profit after corporations take their cut. A yes vote on Question D will also help support SMCC students, many of whom have to work around courses while also juggling high-cost apartments near school or dorm fees.

If you’d like to learn more about the individual ballot initiatives, you can click here. You can also learn about different polling locations’ here.

Elora welcomes students and faculty to reach out with suggestions for articles– you can reach her via email at eloraagriswold@smccme.edu or on Instagram at @elora.abigail.

Categories: OpEd

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