U.S. Senate candidate Sara Gideon has made rejecting corporate PAC money a tenet of her Democratic campaign, repeatedly highlighting her position in numerous online and televised ads.

In television and online ads, Democratic Senate candidate Sara Gideon has made rejecting corporate PAC money a tenet of her campaign. Image from Facebook

But she is accepting donations from leadership PACs funded partly by corporate donations, and that has made her a target for criticism.

Gideon is among a handful of challengers seeking the seat of Republican Sen. Susan Collins and is the leading fundraiser among Collins’ opponents, with $7.6 million raised so far in what is expected to be the most expensive race in Maine history.

Collins’ campaign last week released an ad criticizing Gideon for “saying one thing but doing another” by taking money from leadership PACs – fundraising committees formed by party leaders – whose donors include corporate PACs.

Gideon’s campaign said Thursday that she was busy in the Maine Legislature – where she serves as House speaker – and would not be available to answer a reporter’s questions about why she refuses corporate donations directly yet accepts them when they come through a secondary source.

Gideon’s campaign issued a statement instead.

“Sara believes Washington won’t work for Mainers until we get money from corporations out of politics,” campaign spokeswoman Maeve Coyle said. “That’s why she isn’t accepting a dime from corporate PAC’s. Pharmaceutical companies, Wall Street banks and other special interests have given millions to Senator Collins, who has taken $5.6 million from corporate PACs and then voted for a trillion dollar corporate tax giveaway and to keep prescription drug costs high.

“That isn’t putting Maine first. Sara has made reforming Washington a central part of her campaign because it’s what she’ll do once she’s elected.”

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics, Gideon has taken $70,800 from leadership PACs, while Collins has raised $10.9 million total and taken $421,900 from leadership PAC’s.

Gideon, who has pledged to reject corporate PAC donations, has not received any, according to Maplight, another group that monitors campaign finance. Collins, meanwhile, has received $668,099 in corporate PAC contributions in 2019-20.

The leadership PAC money to Gideon includes $10,000 from IMPACT, the leadership PAC of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York. Schumer’s PAC has received donations from corporations that include Amazon, American Express and Comcast among others. Gideon also has received contributions from All for Our Country, a leadership PAC whose corporate donors include Comcast and Eli Lilly.

Collins, meanwhile, has received donations from leadership PACs that include the Majority Committee PAC, whose corporate donors include AT&T and Boeing among others.

Leadership PACs, whose donors can also include individuals, typically give money to promising candidates in their own party or incumbents who are seen as being in challenging races.

It’s not necessarily hypocritical for a candidate who has made a no-corporate PAC pledge to take money from leadership PACs who might, said Tony Corrado, a professor of government at Colby College.

“With leadership PAC money, it’s basically given to candidates with hopes the party can gain majority control of Congress,” Corrado said. “It doesn’t reflect any type of singular interest as you would find with receiving money from, for example, a Bank of America PAC.”

In a statement Thursday, Collins’ campaign also criticized Gideon for direct corporate and corporate PAC donations taken by the leadership PAC Gideon formerly ran as speaker of the House in Maine.

“Speaker Gideon says one thing, but does another,” said Kevin Kelley, Collins’ campaign spokesman. “She says she won’t accept corporate PAC money, but she has taken tens of thousands of dollars from leadership PACs that accept corporate PAC money.

“In fact, as speaker, she took tens of thousands of dollars directly from pharmaceutical companies, a pipeline company and many large out-of-state corporations.”

Gideon is among a growing number of congressional candidates who have made pledges to not accept corporate PAC donations, according to End Citizens United, a group that encourages candidates to reject corporate PAC donations and has endorsed Gideon.

The group estimates there are 50 members of the House and 12 members of the Senate who don’t take corporate PAC money.

Corrado said that while challengers usually receive a minor amount of PAC funding overall, Collins’ challenger could be expected to draw slightly more than usual because the race is expected to be highly competitive.

“It’s a popular tactic for Democratic challengers to forgo corporate PAC donations as a way to try and make a case that they’re going to be different and it won’t be politics as usual in Washington (if they get elected),” he said. “In a growing number of cases their opponents have tried to make the case that they are receiving that money in some way or another.”

Though Gideon is leading Collins’ potential challengers in fundraising, she still faces a Democratic primary in June in which she will face former Google executive Ross LaJeunesse of Biddeford; Saco attorney Bre Kidman and progressive activist Betsy Sweet of Hallowell.

LaJeunesse, who has raised $599,206, is largely self-funding his campaign and has not received any PAC contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Sweet, who has raised $271,877, reported $3,288 in PAC donations that were neither leadership nor corporate PACs. Kidman, meanwhile, who stopped actively fundraising over the summer and has rejected money in politics, has raised $16,208 and received no PAC money.

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