Maine Dark Money Group Behind False Ad Tied to Sara Gideon

Washington Post gave the ad 'Three Pinocchios'

Sara Gideon
Sara Gideon / Facebook

Maine Momentum, the dark money group that received Three Pinocchios from the Washington Post for an ad hitting Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine), has ties to the Democratic Party establishment's preferred candidate challenging Collins.

The Post's Glenn Kessler published a fact-check on the group's 30-second "Trusted" ad. The group, which has reserved at least $722,000 for advertising through January to "educate" voters about Collins, has ties to Maine Democrat Sara Gideon.

Maine Momentum is the nonprofit "social welfare" organization that launched the 16 Counties Coalition campaign last month. It is aimed at holding Collins accountable for her support of the 2017 Republican tax cut, according to the Maine Public:

The group and the campaign are run by Willy Ritch, a former spokesperson for Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, and Chris Glynn, a former spokesperson for the Maine Democratic Party who recently worked for Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon.

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The attempt to consolidate financial and organizational support behind Gideon also signals that national Democrats will spare no expense to topple Collins, the only Republican member of Congress from New England.

That effort will be bolstered by Maine Momentum and 16 Counties, which have promised a "vigorous, sustained campaign" over the next year. Glynn and Ritch say the group is formed as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit with the I.R.S.

Glynn served as the director of communications for the office of Maine House Speaker Gideon "through the remainder of the First Regular Session of Maine’s 129th Legislature" in June before accepting the director of communications role at 16 Counties Coalition, according to his LinkedIn page.

Ritch, who emceed an event last month with the "Tax March" organization that featured multiple anti-Collins speakers, told Maine Public his group's focus will be on "education and accountability" and added, "We’re not going to tell anybody who they should or shouldn’t vote for. We’ll leave that fight to other people."

Kessler addressed two claims in the Maine Momentum ad, which featured a man named David from North Yarmouth, Maine.

"I need Medicare to get by. But Senator Collins voted for a tax bill that puts Medicare and Social Security in jeopardy, but gives large corporations a big tax break," David says in the ad. "And then I heard the same corporations gave her over $5 million."

Kessler said the ad was "cleverly crafted," but wrote the citation of the opinion piece "misattributes and misquotes the source material to make its claim seem more authoritative than it is." Kessler went on to say there is "no evidence" to support the claim about corporate PAC money swaying Collins's vote, according to the Post.

"But here's the problem: Just because the TCJA is deficit-financed does not mean benefits in the specific safety-net programs mentioned in the ad would be cut to achieve balance. All things being equal, Congress just as easily could reduce spending on any other program," Kessler wrote. "In fact, given the politics involved, Social Security and Medicare might be the last programs to be cut. Moreover, Collins affirmatively took a step to protect Medicare from budget cuts—a fact unacknowledged by the ad."

The Post describes the Three Pinocchio rating as "significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions."