Democratic opponents of Sara Gideon in Maine seized on her recently revealed violation of federal election laws to question her stated commitment to getting money out of politics, and also the party's decision to back her challenge to Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine).
It was reported this week that Gideon, a state legislator running for U.S. Senate, used her own state leadership PAC, which is funded largely through direct contributions from corporations, to reimburse her own personal contributions to federal candidates. Gideon did not respond to inquiries from the Washington Free Beacon, which discovered the illegal campaign activity, but her campaign told the Associated Press the violations were due to Gideon receiving "incorrect guidance" on how to process contributions.
Gideon's actions were in clear violation of federal law prohibiting individuals from making contributions in the name of another person or entity, and her opponents say it's evidence that Gideon's attempt to embrace campaign finance reform is all about politics.
"It just shows how deep and wide the problem of corporate money influencing our democracy and our politicians is," said Betsy Sweet, whose Senate run was endorsed by Justice Democrats. "I will never be influenced by corporate PAC money, because I have never taken it and I never will."
"For me, getting money out of politics isn't just a campaign slogan driven by the latest polling information," Sweet added, an apparent shot at Gideon.
Bre Kidman, an attorney also vying for the Democratic nomination to face Collins next November, expressed hope that Gideon's legal violations would push voters to look at options besides Gideon, who has been embraced by party leaders.
"I'm hopeful that Maine will remember that we don't have to tolerate this," Kidman told the Free Beacon. "We have to set firm ethical expectations if we want better representation."
"Collins and Gideon are dominating the narrative with competing corruption while there are honest people in this race trying to get over the hurdle they've built by treating money in politics as a necessary evil and sweeping ethical safeguards under the rug," Kidman said. "It's bad for Maine and it's bad for the democratic process."
Campaign finance experts expressed shock to the Free Beacon that Gideon would be unaware her actions were illegal.
"I've seen laypeople who periodically need reminders that it's illegal to reimburse someone for a campaign contribution, but I've never seen anyone in the political arena, especially an officeholder, who doesn't understand that this is a serious thing you just do not do," said Cleta Mitchell, a veteran campaign finance attorney. "Your donors are your donors, and they better not be getting reimbursed by any third party."
Demi Kouzounas, chair of the Maine Republican Party, expressed similar doubt.
"Anyone who runs for office knows that reimbursing yourself for federal election contributions through your corporate-funded PAC is not only illegal, but highly unethical," Kouzounas said.
A full explanation of Gideon's campaign finance violations can be viewed here.