- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Left-leaning groups are targeting Sen. Susan Collins, a rare Republican ally for Democrats in Congress’ upper chamber, and conservatives are beginning to push back.

Demand Justice has routinely trained its fire on the Maine Republican this year, making multiple five-figure digital and television ad buys highlighting her position on President Trump’s judicial nominees and her vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.

Demand Justice is a left-leaning advocacy group that organizes activists around the courts and is led by Brian Fallon, a former aide to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and spokesman for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

A new “social welfare” nonprofit, Maine Momentum, has taken aim at undermining Ms. Collins’ reelection effort. The 501(c)(4) organization established the 16 Counties Coalition this year to fight “the consequences of the Republican-controlled Senate’s policies,” particularly the tax reform legislation of 2017, according to its website.

The leadership of the coalition has come under fire from conservatives for operating outside the boundaries of the law. The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) filed a complaint about the group with the IRS this month and requested an investigation into whether the group was “in fact operating for the private benefit of the Maine Democratic Party” rather than as a social welfare organization.

Included among the complaints are gripes about the timing of the coalition’s launch and the group’s staffing. The coalition’s communications director is Chris Glynn, a former aide to Ms. Collins’ Democratic opponent, Sara Gideon. The coalition’s launch came “within days” of Ms. Gideon launching her campaign earlier this year.

Advertising Analytics data shared with The Washington Times showed Maine Momentum has spent more than $1.2 million on advertising since the start of the year, including more than $900,000 on television ads.

“Democrat Sara Gideon says she is opposed to ‘dark money’ influencing elections, but it is clear that she welcomes the millions being spent by her former staffer to boost her bid for U.S. Senate,” said a Republican involved in the 2020 U.S. Senate races. “Maine Momentum’s ties to Gideon will continue to be problematic for her as she has to answer for a dark money group tied to her campaign while also having to defend her own ongoing ethics scandals. These money and ethics issues aren’t going away.”

FACT separately called on the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday to investigate the Maine Democratic Party over its failure to refund or disgorge funds it received from Ms. Gideon via a possibly illegal contribution. A political action committee, Gideon Leadership PAC, reimbursed Ms. Gideon after she donated to the state Democratic Party and a campaign during 2015 and 2016, making her an apparent proxy for the PAC, according to FACT’s complaint filed with the FEC.

The Maine Commission on Government Ethics and Election Practices is scheduled to meet Wednesday and is planning to examine contributions made by Gideon Leadership PAC.

Ms. Gideon’s campaign and the 16 Counties Coalition did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

Ms. Collins, meanwhile, has been building a financial arsenal capable of combating the dark money unleashed against her. She reported receiving $6.45 million by July, which was more than she raised in her last race with more than a year to go until Election Day.

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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