LEWISTON, Maine — When she retired in 2012, U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Republican, rolled about $500,000 of her last campaign war chest into Olympia’s List, a multi-candidate political action committee that’s meant to help moderates and those who seek common ground in politics.
But so far the PAC has doled out only $15,000 — giving $10,000 to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ re-election campaign in 2012 and another $5,000 to the campaign of Kevin Raye, a Republican who lost to incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District in 2012 and who is running again this year. The donation to Raye was made in September 2013.
Raye, a former state Senate president from Perry, is also a former chief of staff for Snowe. He is locked in a heated Republican primary race against former state treasurer Bruce Poliquin. The two recently exchanged jabs over Collins’ work in Washington, with Raye defending her and Poliquin suggesting voters should remove all the “career politicians.”
Lucas Caron, a spokesman for Olympia’s List and Snowe, said Tuesday that the former senator has been busy on the lecture circuit in recent weeks but was getting ready to issue more campaign support in the form of cash soon.
Caron said Snowe is particularly interested in breaking the dysfunction of the U.S. Senate, and campaign donations from Olympia’s List will likely be headed to candidates largely outside Maine in an effort to find cross-over Republicans who are willing to work with Democrats and independents.
Some of that money would likely be earmarked for incumbent U.S. senators who worked with Snowe across party lines during her three terms in the U.S. Senate, Caron said.
But it is also likely she would help some candidates who are seeking to oust some of her former colleagues, especially the entrenched partisans.
The PAC itself has a little more than $288,000 on hand, according to the latest Federal Election Commission campaign finance reports available.
“She will be making another substantial round of donations soon that will be mostly, if not exclusively, to Senate candidates,” Caron said.
Caron also said the PAC, which has seen steady donations but has also been steadily depleted by operating expenditures, would seek new donations.
Last March, Snowe told the Sun Journal she largely intended to use the PAC to fund the campaigns of moderate Republicans.
“I just hope that ultimately we get people that are going to be prepared to work together, and that’s what it requires, it requires collaboration, and Maine people understand that fundamentally and so do many Americans,” Snowe said.
“Obviously, we all have our political differences and there is legitimacy to the different views,” Snowe said at the time. “But then the question is once both sides in the U.S. Senate put up their respective views and positions and they don’t prevail — then what happens? Ultimately it’s moving that ball forward that needs to happen and that’s not happening.”
With $288,000 on hand, the PAC isn’t that sizable in the context of a U.S. Senate campaign — even Snowe’s own re-election war chest was approaching $4 million in 2012.
Meanwhile, finance reports show donations to the PAC have trickled in since it was formed in January 2013, collecting just over $77,000.
Paul Mills, a Farmington attorney, political observer and author, said a donation from Olympia’s List would have certain value beyond any actual buying power it would lend to a campaign.
“It becomes more of a symbolic gesture, perhaps it’s a prestige item, because the funding is nothing like the Koch brothers’ financing on such a grand scale,” Mill said. “I think she is such a revered figure that the fact something she influences is donating to you bears some kind of significance as an endorsement.”
In the case of Olympia’s List, Mills said the origin of the donation will matter more than the amount.
“I would much rather get $1,000 from Olympia Snowe than, say, from a convicted felon,” Mills said.
Still, collecting donations to fund the PAC may also prove difficult, as potential donors will be uncertain as to how their money will be used in the end, Mills said.
“Not knowing what’s she’s going to do with it makes it a little bit harder for people,” Mills said. “That’s an element that might diminish some of the enthusiasm for the fund.”