AUGUSTA, Maine — There are more than 11 months until Election Day in the nationally targeted 2020 campaign for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ seat, but Maine has already seen a statewide race’s worth of fundraising and advertising before it begins in earnest.
The candidates have raised nearly $13 million so far, with 98 percent of it coming from either Collins, a Republican, or House Speaker Sara Gideon, the nationally backed frontrunner in a four-way Democratic primary — more than two hopefuls have raised in a race in Maine history.
National interest has led to $6.3 million in advertising related to the race, according to data from Advertising Analytics. That exceeds spending on Maine ads in the past two presidential races combined. The firm projected $55 million in ad spending — more than double the money spent on any Maine race in history — would flow into the campaign by 2020’s end.
These staggering sums are mostly the product of a mega-campaign descending on a small state. They have also driven the early sniping between the candidates and their allies. We took a look at the money coming into the race and how its being spun as we roll toward 2020.
Collins has raised 19 times more than Gideon from political committees. While Gideon outraised Collins over the summer, the incumbent hauled in nearly $8.6 million by Sept. 30 to Gideon’s $4.2 million. Collins had more than 2 1/2 times the money left. They’re raising it in different ways.
Collins has received 62 percent of her money from people contributing $200 or more and 22 percent of it — or $1.9 million — from political action committees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Only 10 percent has come from donors below the $200 threshold.
Gideon has received 54 percent of her money from large donors and 42 percent of it from small donors. Political committees are only a small part of her mix at 2.4 percent — or $101,000 — after the Democrat’s pledge to not take money from corporate political committees.
Democrats have used corporate-linked contributions to hit Collins, while we’re seeing the limits of Gideon’s no “corporate PACs” pledge. Gideon and allies have hit Collins for millions in corporate-related contributions, linking them to her 2018 vote for Republicans’ tax-cut package. While Collins has raised $7.6 million from business-associated PACs in her career, her share from PACs overall so far is in the middle of the pack relative to top Senate candidates.
Gideon launched her campaign with a pledge to not take money from those corporate PACs, which won her the endorsement of End Citizens United. The group has said 60 candidates have taken that pledge, which became popular among Democrats in 2018.
However, Gideon has taken money from others who take corporate money. For example, she has received $10,000 from a PAC led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, that has been largely funded by corporate PACs led by the pharmaceutical, investment and insurance industries. Her state-level political committee — which was fined by a Maine panel in October for past donations that were reimbursed to Gideon — also took corporate money.
Gideon spokesperson Maeve Coyle said the amount of money Collins has taken from PACs as relative to Gideon is one of the “clear differences” in the race,” while Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley shot back that Gideon “is trying to have it both ways” on corporate money.
Spending on advertising is being dominated by Democrats so far, led by Gideon as she looks to raise her profile and a dark-money group that formed to criticize Collins. At once, Gideon is looking to raise her name recognition while others — for now — look to tear down Collins, who won her fourth term easily in 2014 but faces a Democratic challenge after her 2018 vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Democrats and their allies are dominating spending on TV, radio and digital ads, putting in $4.2 million to Republicans’ $2.1 million by Friday, according to Advertising Analytics. Gideon has spent $1.7 million, including an $615,000 online. Collins has spent more than $1 million overall.
The second-biggest ad spender is Maine Momentum, a nonprofit founded by two Democratic operatives, at $1.3 million. By using a tax-law loophole for “advocacy” organizations, it does not have to disclose donors as long as it does not explicitly tell Mainers who to vote or not vote for. One of its ads was deemed misleading by The Washington Post.
Other dark-money outfits have spent on ads in Maine as well, including Majority Forward ($686,000), a Democratic group that targeted Collins early this year over the government shutdown, and the Republican group One Nation ($298,000), led by Karl Rove, who was a top aide to former President George W. Bush.
Others in the race have not raised much, though a new Democratic candidate looks to be aggressively self-funding his run. Gideon is being challenged in the primary by lobbyist and former gubernatorial candidate Betsy Sweet, lawyer Bre Kidman and former Google executive Ross LaJeunesse. The latter candidate only joined the race in November.
Sweet has been endorsed by some national progressive groups. Both she and Kidman have run toward Gideon’s left while pointing toward the House speaker’s embrace of large, national donors and denouncing national Democrats’ quick embrace of Gideon.
It has made difficult environment for the other candidates, however, with Sweet raising $183,000 as of Sept. 30 and Kidman bringing in just $14,000. LaJeunesse has not had to disclose donors yet, but he opened his run with a $50,000 advertising buy that was intended to introduce him.
That purchase also indicated a willingness to self-fund a run, though we don’t know the degree to which LaJeunesse will do that and the early traction he’ll get in a return to his home state. It could be his only path with Gideon’s national connections paying off for her so far.