Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Democrat Sara Gideon continue to collect millions of their campaign dollars from donors outside Maine, a fundraising disparity likely to deepen if Maine’s 2020 Senate race becomes, as many expect, a national battleground.

But while both campaigns are quietly courting big-dollar donors nationally, Gideon has shown early success tapping into the smaller-dollar, online donations that experts say are increasingly important in competitive races.

“What you’re seeing is just the tip of the iceberg – there will be an enormous surge of online giving next year, particularly if the race is so close,” said Anthony Corrado, a national campaign finance expert and professor of government at Colby College. “What we’re going to see is clearly record spending in the Senate race – exponentially more than we have seen in the past,”

Maine voters won’t select the next senator for more than a year, but Collins and Gideon – Maine’s House speaker and the best-funded Democrat in the race – have already amassed more contributions than all but one other U.S. Senate race in the state’s history and every other House and gubernatorial contest. And with nearly $13 million in combined donations so far, the candidates will easily surpass the $14 million raised by Collins and her 2008 opponent, former U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, by the end of the year.

Democrat Betsy Sweet, who has made removing “big money” from politics a tenet of her campaign, raised $183,000 as of Sept. 30 while Bre Kidman of Saco has raised more than $14,000. But a fourth Democrat, retired Air Force Major Gen. Jon Treacy of Oxford, withdrew from the race last week in part because he deemed it impossible to compete financially.

“I think it’s extremely detrimental to the foundation of our democracy,” Treacy said of money’s impacts on the election system.

IN-STATE VS. OUT-OF-STATE

Campaign finance reports filed on Oct. 15 with the Federal Election Commission show that out-of-state donors made the vast majority of contributions of $200 or more to both the Collins and Gideon campaigns between July and September. That is the dollar figure at which campaigns must begin “itemizing” or disclosing the names and addresses of donors.

While Collins has yet to formally announce her candidacy for a fifth term, she is aggressively fundraising for a campaign.

Maine residents accounted for 7 percent – or about $118,000 – of the roughly $1.6 million given to Collins by individuals who either donated a minimum of $200 or whose total donations for the year exceeded the $200 reporting threshold.

The largest percentage of itemized donations to Collins’ campaign came from California at 17 percent, followed by New York (11 percent), Florida (8 percent), Virginia (6 percent) and Texas (5 percent), according to a Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram analysis of those larger, itemized donations.

For Gideon, Mainers accounted for 18.5 percent of the $1.7 million in itemized donations listed on her FEC filing. As with Collins, Californians represented the biggest chunk of larger-dollar donors (21 percent) followed by New York (18 percent), Massachusetts (11 percent), Maryland (8 percent) and Connecticut (5 percent).

That doesn’t tell the whole story of in-state versus out-of-state giving, however, because campaigns are not required to disclose the name or address of donors giving less than $200. Gideon received $1.3 million in “unitemized” donations while Collins received $118,000, but neither campaign would reply to Press Herald/Sunday Telegram requests for an accounting of the percentage of small-dollar donations from Maine.

“Fundraising for Senate campaigns has become nationalized now,” Corrado said. “While candidates will raise money in their own state, most of the money raised for these races will come from other states. … And with online giving, in these high-profile races the money comes in from all over the country in amounts that swamp anything these candidates can raise in their own states.”

Both campaigns were eager to share the total number of individual donors from Maine, however.

“In the four months that Sara has been in the race, more than 5,000 Mainers have donated,” Gideon campaign spokeswoman Maeve Coyle said in a statement. “We’re incredibly proud of the grassroots movement we’re building, unlike Senator Collins, who has taken over one million dollars from corporate PACs this (election) cycle alone – four times more than she has from Mainers.”

Collins’ campaign, meanwhile, said the Republican received approximately 2,500 donations from Maine during the last quarter.

“Senator Collins is honored to receive strong support here in Maine and around the country from people who appreciate her independent, moderate approach to legislating,” spokesman Kevin Kelley said in a statement.

BIG vs. SMALL

According to figures from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan, campaign finance watchdog organization, 42 percent of Gideon’s donations to date were small-dollar donations of $200 or less, compared to 9.5 percent for Collins. Betsy Sweet, meanwhile, had raised nearly 55 percent of her $183,000 from small-dollar donations.

Both Gideon and Collins have received hundreds of donations, however, from individuals who have already donated the maximum $2,800 for a primary contest or $5,600 for the primary and general election.

Their lists include some well-known names and big-dollar national donors.

Gideon’s list of maxed-out donors includes: Linkedin co-founder and Top 20 political donor Reid Hoffman of California ($5,600), Maine authors Stephen and Tabitha King (both $5,600), investor and Democratic fundraiser George Soros of New York along with his wife (both $5,600), and financier, philanthropist and former Maine Today Media owner Donald Sussman ($5,600).

Collins’ list of maxed-out donors includes: Leonard Leo, a Virginia attorney who heads the Federalist Society, which has helped guide the Trump administration’s selection of conservative judges; Texas banking billionaire and conservative Andrew Beal; former Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman; and Maine businessman and former Cianbro CEO Peter Vigue.

RECORD FUNDRAISING

Despite Gideon’s record-setting fundraising haul last quarter, Collins enjoys a substantial cash advantage with $7.1 million in the bank compared to $2.8 million for her would-be opponent.

The $8.6 million that Collins has raised during the current election cycle is more than any candidate in Maine history and places her 10th among all fundraisers nationally for Senate seats in 2020, according to FEC data.

Gideon’s $4.2 million in total contributions lands her in the 25th spot among all Senate candidates. But 21 of those 25 are incumbent senators, and Gideon has raised more money than all but three other non-incumbent candidates.

The most prolific Senate fundraiser this year is NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, who has amassed a $14 million campaign war chest in his bid to defeat Republican Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona. Kelly is the husband of former Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords, who retired after being shot during an event with constituents in 2011.

Kelly and Gideon are among several Democratic challengers who outraised their Republican incumbent opponents last quarter by substantial margins. This comes at a time when President Trump is setting fundraising records for his re-election campaign but also energizing Democrats determined to oust him and any perceived allies.

“Republicans are going to struggle with fundraising and messaging if the only thing they can talk about is President Trump,” Jonathan Kott, a senior adviser to West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, told The Associated Press. “What we found is no matter how popular the president is, you have to stand up to him when it’s good for your state. Democratic senators are finding a way to do that. Republican senators aren’t.”

PAC MONEY

Like most members of Congress, Collins has received substantial donations from political action committees operated by corporations or interest groups. PACs can donate $5,000 per election or $10,000 total between primary and general elections.

During the most recent three-month filing period, the Republican reported receiving $369,400 from PACs, which accounted for 17 percent of her total contributions for the period. Those PACs ranged from trade organizations to the political arms of dozens of big-name corporations such as Boeing, Citigroup, Exxon Mobil, FedEx, Google, Lockheed Martin and MetLife.

Gideon has pledged not to accept any money from corporate PACs, although she did accept $96,048 from labor union PACs and interest groups focused on protecting women’s access to abortion.

“I am not taking a dime in corporate PAC money during this campaign because it will always be clear who I am working for in the U.S. Senate: the people of Maine,” Gideon says in her latest ad.

But Gideon has accepted tens of thousands of dollars from so-called “leadership PACs” run by Democratic members of Congress that, in turn, accept donations from corporate PACs.

For instance, Gideon received $10,000 from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York’s Impact PAC, which is heavily funded by corporate PACs. Other leadership PACs donating to Gideon – including those run by Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth – have also received hefty financial support from corporate PACs.

Collins spokesman Kelley accused Gideon of “trying to have it both ways” and also pointed to Gideon’s own leadership PAC for the Maine Legislature, which did accept donations from corporations. Gideon’s campaign, meanwhile, points to the more than $1 million Collins has accepted from PACs this election cycle.

This article was updated at 4 p.m. on Oct. 27 to correct a statement from Collins’ spokesman Kevin Kelley regarding corporate donations to Gideon’s legislative leadership PAC.

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