Maine's Gideon Gets Three 'Pinocchios' for Attack on Collins

WaPo slams 'highly misleading' attack ad

Sara Gideon / YouTube Screenshot
June 15, 2020

Fact-checkers blasted a Maine Democrat running against Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) for airing a "highly misleading" advertisement that falsely accused Collins of prioritizing corporate donors over Maine voters.

The Washington Post's fact-checkers awarded three out of four Pinocchios to Sara Gideon, the establishment-backed Democrat poised to challenge Collins, for running an ad that "misleadingly attacks Susan Collins on the Paycheck Protection Program," a pandemic relief program crafted by Collins to help small businesses. In the ad, Gideon falsely accused Collins of including "special loopholes" in the program that benefited her campaign donors in the hospitality industry at the expense of small businesses in Maine.

"Gideon's ad takes several discrete elements—relatively minor campaign contributions to Collins, a bipartisan effort to allow franchises in hotel chains to obtain PPP money, and early numbers on PPP recipients in Maine—to sketch a misleading narrative," the Post said. "Overall, this ad is highly misleading and worthy of Three Pinocchios."

Gideon, Maine's state House speaker, is the frontrunner in the Democratic Senate primary, raising more than $14 million, which has allowed her to flood the airwaves. The most recent attack ad claimed that only 10 percent of Maine small businesses have received loans from the Paycheck Protection Program. The Post, however, noted that Gideon's figure is misleading because it includes self-employed individuals and shell companies. Meanwhile, a Census Bureau survey found that between 66 to 73 percent of small businesses in the state have received money from the program.

The fact-checker also took issue with Gideon's mischaracterization of the reason why some hotels are eligible for financial support. The program's funds do not directly support large hotel companies but rather their franchisees with less than 500 workers. These franchisees borrow the hotel's brand but usually operate as independent businesses.

"This is a good example of how a narrative can be crafted to leave a false impression," the Post said.

The ad claimed that Collins allowed "large, out-of-state hotels to get millions" from the Paycheck Protection Program after the hotel industry paid roughly $12,000 "as coronavirus spread." Those hotels donated money to the campaign in February, a month before the outbreak erupted into public view in March and the Senate started crafting pandemic relief bills. The Post also noted that the $12,000 donation—from five different PACs—is a relatively insignificant contribution compared with Collins's total campaign haul of more than $13 million.

This is not the first time Gideon and her supporters have made false accusations against Collins. Maine Momentum, a dark money group aligned with Gideon, ran an ad that falsely accused Collins of jeopardizing Medicare in August 2019, earning three Pinocchios from the Post. Gideon has also misled voters with her promises to reject corporate donors, accepting corporate money passed through other PACs.