With 17 months to go before the 2020 election, Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins has already amassed more campaign cash than she did in three of her previous four congressional contests.
Meanwhile, Democratic challenger and Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon received more than $1 million despite entering the race in late June, eclipsing four other Democratic candidates vying for the chance to unseat Collins next year.
The fundraising totals reported Tuesday to the Federal Election Commission reinforce projections that the Maine Senate race will be one of the most hotly contested and most expensive in the country next year. But the cash statistics posted by Collins and her Democratic challengers only provide a snapshot of the spending that will attempt to influence voters.
An assortment of political action committees, as well as organizations that can obscure funding sources, are also gearing up, and some liberal groups are already spending to sandblast Collins’ long-cultivated reputation as a centrist Republican.
Collins, seeking her fifth term since getting elected to the Senate more than two decades ago, raised more than $2 million in the period between April 1 and June 30, bringing her total to over $6.5 million and $5.4 million in available cash. The overall total is more than Collins raised and spent in her 2014 re-election bid and is fast approaching her most expensive race, a nearly $8 million effort in 2008 to dispatch former Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom Allen.
Collins’ re-election committee said in a statement that it was pleased with the latest fundraising numbers. Democrats quickly noted that 3 percent of her donations above $200 came from Maine and $33,000 from people giving $200 or less.
The focus on the origin of Collins’ donations dovetails with a narrative pushed by her Democratic challengers — that the state’s senior senator has lost touch with Maine voters.
Gideon, who announced her candidacy in late June, quickly pulled in over $1 million thanks in part to support from national Democrats and aligned interest groups. More than 43 percent of Gideon’s contributions came from people giving $200 or less.
Gideon’s edge in small-dollar contributions reflects a national trend among Democrats, who are increasingly utilizing the fundraising platform ActBlue, a federal political committee that makes it easier for donors to spread small contributions to candidates nationwide by acting as a pass-through. Republicans have launched a counterpart, WinRed, but it has thus far been slow to catch up with the skyrocketing popularity of ActBlue, which collected over $560 million in small donations to Democratic congressional candidates in 2018 compared to $81 million in 2014.
Campaigns are not required to disclose the names or addresses for donations below $200, but an analysis of ActBlue donations by the Center of Public Integrity last year found that donors in New York and California provided about a third of the donations during the 2018 election cycle.
An analysis of digital ads running on Facebook shows that Gideon has targeted fundraising efforts through ActBlue in multiple states, including New York and California.
Gideon’s fundraising has also been bolstered by endorsements by EMILY’S List, a progressive group that works to elect women candidates, and the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, the primary campaign committee supporting Democratic senate candidates.
Augusta lobbyist Betsy Sweet, who finished third in last year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, is also seeking to challenge Collins next year, but she’s facing headwinds on the fundraising front. Sweet also announced her candidacy in June and pulled in $81,000 — about 44 percent from small-dollar donors.
Sweet could get a boost in the next fundraising report period. Last week she was endorsed by Justice Democrats, an insurgent progressive group partially headed by former staffers to U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid and often credited with assisting Democratic U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s primary victory last year over of incumbent Joe Crowley.
Saco attorney Bre Kidman raised $11,000 during the second-quarter reporting period. Two other Democrats, retired Air National Guard administrator Jonathan Tracey and Michael Bunker, a travel agent from Bangor, did not report fundraising totals on Tuesday.
Collins is also facing a challenge from within her party, Derek Levasseur of Fairfield. Levasseur’s campaign reported just shy of $7,000 in donations and his campaign has more than $2,400 in debt.
Independent candidate Danielle VanHelsing of Sangerville did not report any fundraising.
Direct financial support to Collins’ re-election committee will be bolstered by several Republican groups, including the National Republican Senate Committee. Additionally, some of her larger donors have formed a new political action committee to support her.
The 1820 PAC, an apparent reference to the year Maine was granted statehood, was formed earlier this year and has reported over $775,000 in contributions from just seven donors.
One of them is Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of The Blackstone Group, an international investment firm. Schwarzman, who has previously supported Collins and given the maximum $5,600 to her 2020 re-election committee, gave $500,000 to the 1820 PAC.
Collins’ Democratic challengers are vying for the roughly $4 million that has been privately fundraised as a response to the senator’s controversial vote last year to confirm U.S. Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh and her support for the 2017 Republican tax cut bill that also gutted a key provision in the Affordable Care Act.
Organizers of those fundraising efforts have said the money will go to whoever emerges as Collins’ Democratic challenger next year.
In the meantime, liberal groups have already begun an extensive voter-influencing offensive that highlights Collins’ votes for anti-abortion judges. A group calling itself Likewise Media has spent $25,000 on Facebook ads claiming Collins has betrayed women.
Facebook disclosure shows Likewise Media is owned by Acronym, a nonprofit group founded by Democratic operative Tara McGowan, who worked on President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign and the progressive super PAC Priorities USA, according to The Daily Beast.
Maine’s two Democratic U.S. House members, Reps. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District and Jared Golden of the 2nd District, are also up for re-election next year. Both incumbents are expected to face Republican and possibly independent challengers, although none have officially announced their candidacy. Pingree received over $82,000 in donations last quarter and has more than $246,000 in available cash. Golden has raised just under $730,000.
Originally published 4:14 p.m. July 16, 2019.