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Out-of-state money pours into Maine Senate race

July 16, 2019

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of dollars have flowed into Maine’s Senate race this spring from out-of-state donors as Democrats and Republicans are poised to spend heavily in the race to oust GOP Sen. Susan Collins.

In the last quarter, Collins reported bringing in $1.2 million from individuals, with just $100,000 coming from Mainers giving above $200. Her top individual donors include Nevada casino magnates and Trump backers Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, with the rest of her donations coming from states such as California, Illinois, New York and Virginia.

Collins has already reported receiving more than what she raised in her last race — with more than a year to go. Democratic challenger Sara Gideon, meanwhile, has touted raising $1 million in a week.

Collins has found her long-standing image as a moderate sympathetic to abortion rights under fire in an increasingly polarized Washington. Liberals aiming to unseat her set up a fund that ballooned to $4 million after she voted to confirm President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court selection Brett Kavanaugh last year.

Gideon, the state Democratic House speaker who quickly received the backing of the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has made access to abortion rights a central focus on her campaign. The primary field so far includes retired Air Force general Jonathan Treacy, of Oxford, lobbyist Betsy Sweet, of Hallowell, and Saco lawyer Bre Kidman.

Such challengers are also targeting Collins’ corporate and out-of-state backers.

Gideon’s campaign claims nearly all of her contributions were $100 or less — a figure that can’t be verified by campaign finance reports alone. Still, Gideon reported at least $330,000 in individual contributions from states such as California, Massachusetts and Florida.

In all, Gideon reported raising $600,000 from individual donors who gave over $200 and $450,000 from donors who gave under $200.

Collins, in contrast, has brought in about $25,000 from donors who gave under $200.

It’s unclear where those donors hail from, as federal campaigns aren’t required to report personal information about such small donors.

The senator, who is a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, reported $750,000 from other political committees. That includes $400,000 from leadership committees run by other Republican senators as well as corporations such as McDonalds and Lockheed Martin.

Collins has also teamed up with South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, and other groups such as GOP Winning Women to boost her re-election bid. Collins reported $350,000 this spring from such joint fundraising efforts.

Meanwhile, outside groups funded by Democrats and liberal activists are poised to spend heavily to oust Collins, who easily won re-election in 2014.

Former staffers for Gideon and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree have launched a new nonprofit that wants to educate Mainers about Collins’ record, including her votes to pass Trump’s tax cuts and end the individual mandate under former President Obama’s signature health law.

Organizers said that campaign will hold Collins “accountable” on tax cuts and health care policy without telling anyone exactly how to vote. Former Gideon spokesperson Chris Glynn said the tax cuts ended up benefiting “really large corporations and wealthy special interests.”

It’s unclear who is funding the group, Maine Momentum, which isn’t required to report its donors as a nonprofit “social welfare” organization.

Another group, Main Voters, has reported spending $15,000 on anti-Collins webs ads so far. The independent expenditure group is running a “Stop Collins” campaign that calls Collins a “right-wing radical” who talks “like a moderate.”

Maine Voters reports receiving much of its funds — $100,000 — from former MaineToday Media owner and hedge fund manager S. Donald Sussman.

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