Oops. Maine Dem Senate challenger hit on campaign finance violations

Maine’s Democratic state House Speaker Sara Gideon finds herself in a spot of trouble this week as she prepares to Challenge Susan Collins for her Senate seat next year. An investigation by the Free Beacon recently revealed that she’s committed multiple violations of campaign finance law and they don’t look like the usual bookkeeping errors that trip up many inexperienced politicians. These allegations involve making federal campaign contributions and then having the money reimbursed to her through a PAC. That’s a pretty serious Bozo no-no in the eyes of the FEC.

The Maine Republican Party has called for an investigation into Democratic Senate candidate Sara Gideon after a Washington Free Beacon investigation revealed serious campaign finance violations that she has now admitted to.

Gideon, who has been anointed as the Democratic Party establishment’s pick to challenge Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) next November, violated election law by using a corporate-funded state political action committee to reimburse her own political contributions to federal candidates. Federal election law forbids individuals from making individual contributions in the name of another person or entity, but Gideon did so on four different occasions in 2015 and 2016.

“She’s blaming incorrect guidance and all these other things, but she’s been running for office since 2012 and she has negotiated and worked on campaign finance bills even at the state level,” Maine Republican Party executive director Jason Savage told Maine Business Daily.

In one of the instances highlighted by the Free Beacon, Gideon donated $1,000 to a Democratic congressional candidate. Then, one month later, her own political action committee, Gideon Leadership PAC, paid her the same amount. You might be able to write that off as a coincidence under normal circumstances, but on her campaign finance disclosure forms she listed the payment as “reimbursement for federal contribution.”

That’s pretty much the equivalent of deciding to murder your spouse, paying for your ammunition with a check and writing on the memo line, “bullets so I can shoot Bob.”

Then again, that disclosure form might be her saving grace when it comes to the FEC. She’s blaming the violations on “incorrect guidance” on campaign finance rules. Unless she’s in the running for the Dumbest Criminals of 2019 category, the written admission certainly makes it sound like she was unaware that the repayment was illegal. But how does somebody spend more than a decade in politics and rise to the level of Speaker of the state House without learning even the most basic rules of campaign finance law? If her defense is honest, is she really ready to take a seat in the United States Senate?

As I mentioned above, these really aren’t minor violations. Reimbursing anyone for campaign donations is serious business. It’s what took down some of Andrew Cuomo’s big New York donors in the scandal that came to be known as the Buffalo Billion, and two of them went to prison for it. Generally, if you have a more minor violation, such as accepting more than the legal maximum from a donor or taking a check from a non-citizen without vetting them, the FEC will usually let you off with a fine and an order to return the money. But hiding money through straw donors can get you into serious hot water.

Having been down the campaign trail a couple of times myself, one of the first pieces of advice I would offer to any potential candidates for state or federal office involves staffing. The first person you hire, even before a campaign manager, chief of staff or body man, is a very experienced person to handle the money who knows all the traps and pitfalls of campaign finance. And the second person you generally hire is a lawyer to work with them. This sort of thing sinks more campaigns than you would probably imagine.