PORTLAND — 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.

Sara Gideon Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

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. Gideon hopes to unseat Republican Sen. Susan Collins in 2020.

“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 contributed $1,000 to a Democratic congressional candidate in 2015. Gideon’s PAC soon after paid her $1,000 as “reimbursement for a federal contribution.” Federal law prohibits reimbursing someone for a contribution, while Maine law has few restrictions for state-level PACs.

Gideon’s leadership PAC was terminated in June. The campaign said she has 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 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 the Maine GOP, meanwhile, said it’s “beyond ridiculous” that Gideon, who has denounced the role of corporate money in politics, 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.

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.


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