Tags: 2020 Elections | susan collins | sara gideon | campaign finance | leadership pac | maine senate

Report: Collins Challenger May Have Violated Contribution Laws

Report: Collins Challenger May Have Violated Contribution Laws
Maine Speaker of the House Sara Gideon is challenging Susan Collins for her U.S. Senate seat. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

By    |   Tuesday, 27 August 2019 12:24 PM

Sara Gideon, the speaker of Maine’s House of Representatives and a candidate for the U.S. Senate, is pushing back against what she calls “a partisan political attack” involving an ethics complaint over her campaign donations.

Gideon has acknowledged she was reimbursed by her political action committee, the Gideon Leadership PAC, for several political contributions she made in 2015 and 2016. Federal and state laws prohibit anyone from making a donation on behalf of another person or entity.

Edward Youngblood, a former Republican state senator from Brewer, Maine, wrote to the head of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices last Tuesday stating “Sara Gideon knowingly made multiple contributions to both federal and Maine political committees with her personal funds that were reimbursed by the PAC.”

Youngblood objected to what he called Gideon’s “repeated and blatant violations of both state and federal law.” And he urged the Ethics Commission “to evaluate whether Gideon’s use of her state PAC to violate federal law conforms with the Legislative Code of Ethics that requires legislators to abide by high moral and ethical standards.”

According to Gideon’s campaign, she sent a personal check on July 31 in the amount of $3,250 to the U.S. Treasury to account for the controversial donations.

Whether that proves adequate to stave off any additional embarrassment for the Gideon campaign remains to be seen.

In response to a Newsmax request for comment, Gideon campaign spokeswoman Maeve Coyle said in a statement: “It’s unfortunate that people are trying to misrepresent the facts and turn this into a partisan political attack.

“The contributions were within the legal limit and fully disclosed,” Coyle’s statement added, “but the committee was given incorrect guidance on how to process them. The error was immediately addressed.”

Collins is considered the No. 1 target for Democrats hoping to reclaim the Senate majority. Activist groups nationwide have been promising to oppose her ever since vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

The Associated Press recently reported outside money is pouring into the state in a bid to influence the election.

Gideon’s campaign could face additional issues, some legal and some political, due to the reimbursed donations.

One legal concern: Several corporations also donated funds to the Gideon Leadership PAC, and it is not known whether those funds were segregated from the accounts used to reimburse Gideon. Federal law prohibits corporations from making donations to candidates.

Another potentially thorny legal issue: Groups donating more than $1,000 are required to register with and report to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Youngblood states in his correspondence that “Gideon Leadership PAC has never filed the appropriate disclosures with the FEC.”

The impact of the reimbursed donations could be even more significant politically, if it complicates the Gideon campaign’s messaging.

Gideon has focused her campaign on resisting the influence of corporate money in politics. It would be harder to position herself as an enemy of big money in politics if her PAC is ensnared in an ethics investigation related to donations. Already, the controversy has drawn attention to the PAC’s substantial roster of corporate donors.

Among the personal donations from Gideon that were reimbursed to her from her PAC: Donations to Emily Cain for Congress, to the Maine Democratic Party, to Golden Leadership Fund, and to the House Democratic Campaign Committee.

Shortly after each of those donations, her PAC issued a reimbursement to her.

Working in Gideon’s favor, in terms of containing the controversy, is the fact that those reimbursements were documented and publicly reported. That could be seen as an indication there was no effort to evade the law.

Some election-law experts describe the violations as serious nonetheless.

The Washington Free Beacon was first to report Gideon was reimbursed for campaign donations that she made to other candidates.

Veteran GOP campaign-finance attorney Cleta Mitchell told the Free Beacon that campaign donations through an intermediary are “probably the No. 1 worst campaign finance violation under federal law.”

She added “I’ve never seen anyone in the political arena, especially an officeholder, who doesn’t understand that this is a serious thing you just do not do. Your donors are your donors, and they better not be getting reimbursed by any third party.”

Ironically, perhaps, Gideon’s own campaign-donation page seems well versed on this particular aspect of election law.

It prominently asks donors to acknowledge: “This contribution is made from my own funds, and funds are not being provided to me by another person or entity for the purpose of making this contribution.”

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Sara Gideon, the speaker of Maine's House of Representatives and a candidate for the U.S. Senate, is pushing back against what she calls "a partisan political attack" involving an ethics complaint over her campaign donations.
susan collins, sara gideon, campaign finance, leadership pac, maine senate
Tuesday, 27 August 2019 12:24 PM
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