Records show Democrat disclosed reimbursement for donations
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A Maine Democratic Senate hopeful disclosed using her leadership political action committee to reimburse herself for political contributions in 2015 and 2016, according to state and federal campaign finance reports.
Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon’s campaign manager Amy Mesner said Thursday that Gideon’s fundraising committee received “incorrect guidance on how to process” such contributions.
“While these contributions were within the legal contribution limit and fully disclosed in public reporting, the fundraising committee was given incorrect guidance on how to process them,” Mesner said in an emailed statement. “As soon as we were made aware of the error, it was addressed.”
Gideon, who quickly received the backing of the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has made access to abortion rights and fighting corporate money in politics a focus of her campaign to oust Republican Sen. Susan Collins in 2020. Collins, meanwhile, has found her long-standing image as a moderate under fire in an increasingly polarized Washington.
Federal law prohibits reimbursing someone for a contribution, while Maine law has few restrictions for spending by state-level PACs.
Democratic congressional candidate Emily Cain reported a $1,000 contribution from Gideon in 2015. Gideon’s PAC soon after paid Gideon $1,000 as “reimbursement for a federal contribution.”
Gideon’s campaign said Gideon on Wednesday sent a personal check of $3,250 to the U.S. Treasury to offset such contributions.
Gideon’s campaign didn’t respond to several follow-up questions, including who provided the incorrect guidance and why Gideon sent a check to the U.S. Treasury. The contributions from Gideon, whose leadership PAC was terminated in June, were first reported by The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative media outlet.
Collins’ campaign didn’t immediately provide on-the-record comment Thursday.
The chair of Maine’s GOP, meanwhile, said it’s “beyond ridiculous” that Gideon claimed she was unaware she was breaking campaign finance law.
“Anyone who runs for office knows that reimbursing yourself for federal election contributions through your corporate-funded PAC is not only illegal, but highly unethical,” said Maine GOP Chair Demi Kouzounas.
Such federal law issues would be up to the Federal Election Commission, which declined comment Thursday.
Meanwhile, a state ethics official said he wouldn’t advise donors about the legality of federal contributions, but would instead advise them to report contributions “exactly as she did.”
“There doesn’t seem to be a violation of state campaign finance law,” said Paul Lavin, assistant director of the Maine Ethics Commission.
Erin Chlopak, a former head of the Federal Election Commission’s policy division who now works for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, told the Bangor Daily News that it seemed like a “pretty clear-cut straw donor” situation. But she said it didn’t look like an intentional violation because the filings disclosed the reimbursements.
“Typically, when people try to break the law, they try to be more discreet about it,” Chlopak told the newspaper.
Gideon’s PAC also reported a $1,000 reimbursement to Gideon for “MDP contribution” in July 2016. It’s unclear what “MDP” refers to. The Maine Democratic Party, which didn’t provide comment, reported a $500 contribution from Gideon Leadership PAC in August of 2016.