Maine, one of the most contested swing states in the country, is now the center of a battle between two progressives with great political power and a conservative alternative media that is standing up to the traditional outlets in the state.
According to a report by Semafor, the Open Society Foundation, funded by Democratic donor George Soros and billionaire philanthropist Hansjörg Wyss, two of America's most powerful progressive investors, funded a group that bought "nearly two dozen respected local newspapers in Maine, including the Portland Press Herald, the Lewiston Sun Journal and the Kennebec Journal."
In July, the National Trust for Local News announced the purchase of these local media outlets, providing a great relief to these outlets' newsrooms, unions and managers who feared a sale to an investor looking to cut expenses.
According to Semafor, both Soros and Wyss contributed millions of dollars to the National Trust for Local News to acquire these Maine newspapers. However, the role of these two in the purchase had been covered up until Monday.
The organization acknowledged that it received money from Soros, but denied that the Open Society Foundation contributed money for the purchase of local newspapers specifically.
However, a source with direct knowledge of the acquisition consulted by Semafor said Soros and Wyss donated the funds so that the National Trust for Local News could acquire the newspapers.
Soros' donation is generating suspicion, especially since the businessman himself has actively pushed for the purchase of historically conservative news outlets in South Florida.
In fact, with Soros' support, the National Trust now manages to control Maine's largest newspaper network, with five dailies and 17 weekly publications, according to a Maine Public report.
Max Tani, the Semafor journalist who published the report, criticized the group for not publicly acknowledging the support of Soros and Wyss: "It’s impossible to argue against saving local newspapers. But at a time when trust in the news media is at a low, the secrecy around the National Trust’s funding raises questions about the sustainability of a nonprofit model that often depends on relatively few big donors."
A conservative counterweight
While the bulk of local newspapers are owned by groups funded by progressive billionaires, the conservative alternative for Maine boils down to a small but successful online newspaper: The Maine Wire.
Founded in 2011, this medium has managed to attract the attention of conservative readers in Maine by producing right-leaning news and opinions, generating a balance in the media offer in this important swing state that will be key in the general elections of 2024.
Of the last 20 presidential elections, the Republican Party has won Maine 11 times. While, since 1974, the governor of Maine has alternated almost equally between candidates of the traditional and independent parties: three Democrats, three independents and four Republicans.