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Docs show Sara Gideon built career on corporate donations, used funds to boost US Senate campaign

Screenshots of a few of the corporate contributions to Speaker Sara Gideon’s “Gideon Leadership PAC”, which she has used to run ads boosting her political profile over the past year.

AUGUSTA – Speaker Sara Gideon might now be claiming she opposes corporate contributions, but records from the Maine Ethics Commission show she has built her career, and funded efforts to boost her statewide support, with contributions from large corporations.

In Maine, legislators can create what is commonly known as a “Leadership PAC” which can accept unlimited contributions from corporations and have relatively lax rules around how the money can be spent.

Filings from Speaker Sara Gideon’s leadership PAC “GIDEON LEADERSHIP PAC” show she has accepted contributions from many large corporations, including Merck, Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield, Eli Lilly, AT&T and American Express, among others. Energy companies, such as natural gas suppliers, pharmaceutical corporations and telecom companies appear with regularity on Gideon’s PAC donation reports.

Interest groups such as Everytown for Gun Safety and the Pavement Coatings Technology Council have also pumped money into Gideon’s PAC.

In total, Gideon’s leadership PAC has collected nearly $300,000 in contributions, with more than half of that coming from “commercial sources.”

A search of Facebook’s ad library, which tracks political ads, shows that Gideon has actually used some of that funding to promote herself and attack Senator Susan Collins.

Gideon ran an ad from December 19, 2018 through December 29, 2018 criticizing Senator Collins and promoting an op-ed Gideon had penned for the Bangor Daily News. The ad contained a “Gideon Leadership PAC” disclaimer. Details provided by Facebook show the ad was seen at least 10,000 times and as many as 50,000 times.

On the left, a current ad from Sara Gideon suggesting she opposes corporate PACs. On the right, an ad run in December of last year bearing the disclaimer of Speaker Sara Gideon’s corporate-funded PAC attacking Senator Susan Collins.

Other ads in the Facebook ads library show Gideon used her corporate PAC money to promote herself on Facebook beginning in June of last year to what appear to be statewide audiences, likely reaching many thousands of Maine people with each ad.

But now Gideon is running a series of ads on Facebook that say she will not accept money from “corporate PACs” in an apparent attempt to distance herself from the type of political money operation that built her political career and candidacy for U.S. Senate.

Gideon’s opponent in the Democratic primary, Betsy Sweet, can lay claim to a role in authoring Maine’s public financing law for state legislative and gubernatorial candidates, so the ads may be an attempt by Gideon to get ahead of any attempt by Sweet to draw a line in the sand with Gideon on corporate donations.

Gideon’s record, however, already shows she has not been shy about using corporate money to boost her personal career and candidacy, even as she laid plans to run a campaign claiming to be against such tactics.

Along with spending the corporate donations to boost her own political profile through Gideon Leadership PAC, Sara Gideon also appears to have spent significant sums on travel and food. According to figures from the Maine Ethics Commission, the third and fourth largest categories of expenditures from Gideon’s corporate-funded PAC were food and travel.

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