Republican Eric Brakey addresses supporters in front of Democratic Rep. Jared Golden's office in Lewiston, Maine, Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 18, 2019. Credit: Andree Kehn / Sun Journal via AP

A group able to shield funding sources until after the Republican primary in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District bought a large round of mailers hitting former state Sen. Eric Brakey over past opposition to President Donald Trump while picturing him alongside progressives.

It is the latest twist in the wide-open primary to challenge U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a freshman Democrat who is one of national Republicans’ top targets in 2020. Brakey is running alongside former state Rep. Dale Crafts and real estate agent Adrienne Bennett, who was a spokesperson for former Gov. Paul LePage.

The nondescriptly named American Policy Fund, a super PAC founded less than two weeks ago, spent nearly $61,000 on mailers opposing Brakey. That sum is far more than is needed to send one round of mail to all likely voters in the district. Less than 35,000 people voted in the last competitive Republican primary there in 2014.

The flyers seem to indicate that some powerful Republicans are concerned about Brakey’s candidacy, but loopholes in federal campaign finance law make it unclear whose money is behind the effort to oppose him in a primary that has revolved around the candidates proving their loyalty to the president who won the 2nd District by 10 points in 2016.

Independent expenditures in the race have so far focused entirely around Brakey, with the American Policy Fund being the first group to go negative, according to federal filings. Brakey has been backed by the Club for Growth, a well-established group led by a former Indiana congressman that advocates for fiscal conservatism and limited government.

Club for Growth’s super PAC arm has spent more than $150,000 to boost Brakey since last fall. Two other conservative-minded groups, the National Association for Gun Rights PAC and the Protect Freedom PAC, have also spent to support the former state senator in recent weeks.

What makes the American Policy Fund unique is that the group was founded recently and Brakey is the only candidate it has spent money to oppose so far, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit that tracks campaign finance. Due to campaign finance rules, the super PAC will not be required to report its sources of funding until after the primary is over.

The group’s treasurer, Cabell Hobbs, is also the treasurer for several other Republican PACs, including one affiliated with former White House national security adviser John Bolton, a hawkish conservative foreign policy voice who recently published a tell-all book critical of Trump. He also worked for a super PAC that tried to recruit former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to run for a U.S. Senate seat in New Hampshire, according to WMUR.

The libertarian-leaning Brakey and one of his mentors, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, have been frequent critics of Bolton’s views. Hobbs did not immediately return a message about the American Policy Fund on Tuesday.

One mailer from the group shows a composite photo of Brakey alongside Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and criticizes the Auburn Republican as a “Never Trumper.”

Brakey declined to back Trump in the 2016 presidential primary, instead favoring Paul early in the race, and did not openly endorse Trump ahead of the general election that year. Crafts backed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who won the Maine caucuses. Both Brakey and Crafts appeared on a list of state convention delegates who were loyal to Cruz that year.

However, both candidates have since grown to embrace Trump. The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., campaigned for Brakey in Portland during his 2018 U.S. Senate run. Crafts praised Trump’s 2016 national convention speech that year.

Brakey spokesperson David Boyer said putting the conservative candidate next to those progressives was “laughable” and “a waste of money.” He said while the mailer takes old statements out of context, it highlights important differences between the hopefuls.

“Eric’s really, genuinely the only candidate who aligns the most with Donald Trump’s America-first foreign policy,” Boyer said.

Fundraising during the first quarter of 2020 was relatively slow for each of the 2nd District Republicans, though Brakey has held a significant lead in fundraising over both of his competitors. Public polling in the primary has been sparse to date.

Brakey has been endorsed by Paul, one of the most prominent libertarian-leaning Republicans. Crafts has the support of LePage, while Bennett recently picked up an endorsement from Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York. The race will use ranked-choice voting.

BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.