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Politics

FBI Investigating Alleged Illegal Donations To Support Susan Collins In 2020

Senate Virus Outbreak
Greg Nash/AP
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Pool The Hill
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing to examine an update from Federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19 on Tuesday, May 11, 2021, on Capitol Hill, in Washington.

A Hawaii-based defense contractor that also operates in Maine made illegal campaign contributions to support U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ reelection effort last year, the FBI alleges in a recently unsealed search warrant.

There is no indication that Collins or anyone on her campaign was aware of or involved in the scheme. Her spokesperson, Annie Clark, said Tuesday that the campaign had “absolutely no knowledge” of the alleged activity, which was revealed in the warrant application filed in early April and first reported by Axios. The Republican senator won reelection with 51 percent of votes over Democrat Sara Gideon last year.

The warrant application alleges that Martin Kao, the CEO of Martin’s Defense Group, created a shell company to funnel $150,000 in funding from his company, then called Navatek, to the 1820 PAC, a super PAC created to support Collins. Government contractors are not allowed to make political donations, a ban that the shell company could have helped Navatek circumvent.

The six-figure contribution was already the subject of a federal campaign finance complaint made by the Campaign Legal Center last year, but the source of funding behind it was not known at that time.

The warrant application also alleges that bank records indicate Kao illegally reimbursed family members who donated to Collins’ campaign. Federal campaign finance records indicate several of Kao’s family members and employees donated nearly $45,000 to Collins’ campaign and the warrant application alleges that Kao wrote them checks or paid them extra in amounts equivalent to their donations.

Kao emailed Collins’ campaign finance director in September 2019 saying he was happy to help the campaign financially, the warrant alleges. The campaign finance director wrote back to Kao saying that he had personally already contributed the maximum amount, but could refer any friends or family members willing to donate to the campaign. Based on the timeline outlined in the warrant, several of Kao’s family members had already made illegal contributions using funds he provided prior to that exchange, while several more made contributions after.

Collins’ campaign raised more than $30 million in total during her reelection bid. Her campaign noted that its “donate” page on her website required potential donors to check a box saying, among other things, that the contribution came from their own funds and “funds are not being provided to me by another person or entity for the purpose of making this contribution.” Most federal campaigns use similar language.

Kao was also accused last fall of defrauding the Paycheck Protection Program, the small business loan program championed by Collins. His company, which has two offices in Maine, won an $8 million contract to design speedy boat hulls here in 2019.

Kao’s alleged criminal activity largely came after securing the contract, but one of the contributions to the senator’s campaign came in June 2019, before Kao and Collins attended a news conference about the boat contract together in August.

This story appears through a media partnership with the Bangor Daily News.