Sara Gideon Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Sara Gideon said Thursday that the candidate was given incorrect advice on reimbursements for political contributions she made in 2015 and 2016, which resulted in federal campaign finance violations.

Gideon is running to unseat Republican Sen. Susan Collins in 2020 and has made access to abortion rights and fighting corporate money in politics a focus of her campaign. Gideon quickly received the backing of the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in her bid to oust Collins, who has found her long-standing image as a moderate under fire in an increasingly polarized Washington.

The Democrat’s campaign manager said Thursday that Gideon’s fundraising committee received “incorrect guidance on how to process” such contributions.

“While these contributions were within the legal contribution limit and fully disclosed in public reporting, the fundraising committee was given incorrect guidance on how to process them,” Amy Mesner said in an emailed statement. “As soon as we were made aware of the error, it was addressed.”

Democratic congressional candidate Emily Cain reported a $1,000 contribution from Gideon in 2015. Gideon’s PAC soon after paid Gideon $1,000 as “reimbursement for a federal contribution.”

Gideon’s campaign said that on Wednesday Gideon sent a personal check for $3,250 to the U.S. Treasury to offset such contributions.


Gideon’s campaign didn’t respond to several follow-up questions, including who provided the incorrect guidance and why Gideon sent a check to the U.S. Treasury. The contributions from Gideon, whose leadership PAC was terminated in June, were first reported by The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative media outlet.

Collins’ campaign didn’t comment on the issue Thursday.

The chair of Maine’s Republican Party, meanwhile, said it’s “beyond ridiculous” that Gideon claimed she was unaware she was breaking campaign finance law.

“Anyone who runs for office knows that reimbursing yourself for federal election contributions through your corporate-funded PAC is not only illegal, but highly unethical,” Maine Republican Party Chair Demi Kouzounas said.

Such federal law issues would be up to the Federal Election Commission, which declined to comment Thursday.

Meanwhile, a state ethics official said he wouldn’t advise donors about the legality of federal contributions, but would instead advise them to report contributions “exactly as she did.”


“There doesn’t seem to be a violation of state campaign finance law,” said Paul Lavin, assistant director of the Maine Ethics Commission.

Erin Chlopak, a former head of the Federal Election Commission’s policy division who now works for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, told the Bangor Daily News that it seemed like a “pretty clear-cut straw donor” situation. But she said it didn’t look like an intentional violation because the filings disclosed the reimbursements.

“Typically, when people try to break the law, they try to be more discreet about it,” Chlopak told the newspaper.

Gideon’s PAC also reported a $1,000 reimbursement to Gideon for “MDP contribution” in July 2016. It’s unclear what “MDP” refers to. The Maine Democratic Party, which didn’t provide comment, reported a $500 contribution from Gideon Leadership PAC in August of 2016.

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