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Maine independent's campaign for governor boosted by ruling

By Dave Sherwood

PORTLAND Maine (Reuters) - A federal judge ruled on Friday that Maine law unfairly limits the amount of money supporters can contribute to independent candidates, providing a boost to the campaign of Eliot Cutler in one of the country’s most hotly contended governor’s races.

The decision allows Cutler’s supporters to double their contributions immediately to match amounts donors have given to the major party candidates.

“Timing is everything,” U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby in Portland wrote in granting plaintiffs a preliminary injunction, adding that they had likely suffered “unconstitutional discrimination as compared to contributors to party candidates.”

Under Maine law, individuals had been allowed to donate up to $1,500 to candidates in each primary and general election campaign, for a total of $3,000. But a group of Cutler supporters sued, claiming independents, who do not participate in primaries, were unconstitutionally limited to just $1,500.

This year, both Republican incumbent Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic contender Mike Michaud ran uncontested, but still benefited from the $3,000 cap, supporters said.

The judge agreed, citing contributors' First Amendment rights to “support their candidate for governor.”

Recent polls show Tea Party-backed LePage and Democrat Michaud, who would become the country’s first governor to declare he is gay before taking office, in a statistical dead heat, with Cutler trailing in polls.

In 2010, Cutler, a Maine attorney, ran for governor and garnered more votes than his Democratic opponent but lost to LePage by just 2 percentage points after a late surge.

“This ruling eliminates a longstanding advantage party candidates had over non-party candidates,” a spokeswoman for the Cutler campaign said.

(Editing by Frank McGurty and Dan Grebler)

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