- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2018

The campaign raising money to fund an opponent to Sen. Susan Collins should she vote to confirm President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee said Thursday it has been vetted by the Federal Election Commission and is not engaged in bribery.

The crowdsourcing campaign has sparked a fierce debate, with Ms. Collins, Maine Republican, saying that having a pool of money ready to give to an opponent of hers if she doesn’t vote a certain way is in fact bribery. Some legal experts have concurred.

But Crowdpac says it’s run the traps and doesn’t think it crosses any lines.

“The notion that this type of grass-roots activism and political speech amounts to bribery is ridiculous, and it’s insulting to her constituents and other Americans who are making their voice heard through this campaign,” said Crowdpac CEO Gisela Kordestani.

The campaign has garnered more than $1.2 million in pledges of money that would go to an eventual opponent for Ms. Collins. More than 43,000 people have pledged.

Their credit cards will be charged if she casts her vote for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who the activists oppose.

Ms. Gisela said her company was thoroughly vetted by election law experts, in addition to the FEC, and is operating well within campaign finance laws.

She points to top Marc Elias, an attorney with the Perkins Cole Political Law Group, to bolster her claim.

In a statement Thursday, Mr. Elias, who is advising Crowdpac, said the campaign has raised small dollar donations to hold Ms. Collins accountable.

“The internet is an equalizer in political debate, providing a platform for small contributors to band together and have a voice against the large, powerful interests supporting Senate Republicans,” he said.

“Perhaps Senator Collins ought to ask Judge Kavanaugh whether the First Amendment protects small donors’ rights to free speech or if only corporations have that right,” Mr. Elias added, taking a jab at the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling affirming interest groups’ First Amendment rights to campaign speech.

But not all election law experts agree with Mr. Elias’ claim.

Cleta Mitchell, a prominent campaign lawyer, said Wednesday the Justice Department should investigate the effort, calling it “definitely a violation of federal law.”

“Federal law prohibits any person from promising or offering any thing of value to a member of Congress in exchange for an official act and what these people are doing is definitely a thing of value,” Ms. Mitchell said.

She said the money campaign detracts from Ms. Collins’ ability to make a judgment on the nomination based on his record, his testimony and other relevant factors.

The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, a watchdog group, sent a letter Thursday to the Justice Department requesting for an investigation into the campaign, according to USA Today.

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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