First in an occasional series.

The latest in a series of video attack ads against Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Sara Gideon calls her a hypocrite for saying her campaign won’t accept corporate funding. It draws on facts from Gideon’s political career but places them largely out of context.

The ad, sponsored by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, references state campaign finance records from 2014 to 2018, when Gideon ran a leadership PAC, a fundraising tool used by top lawmakers to collect contributions from multiple donors and distribute the money to the campaigns of Democrats running for the Legislature. Gideon’s leadership PAC did accept corporate contributions.

Gideon, speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, is locked in a tight race against four-term incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins. The race has drawn record campaign spending both by the campaigns and national political action committees like the NRSC. Gideon has been leading Collins by a slight margin in the most recent public polling.

So expect advertisements attacking both candidates to ramp up in the weeks ahead. But because Gideon has made refusing corporate campaign cash a central theme of her campaign, the topic is fair game.

The new NRSC ad is similar in tone and content to attacks against Gideon first launched by Collins’ re-election campaign in November 2019. It echoes nearly verbatim another video campaign that Collins’ team released in February.

“Saying one thing and doing another, it’s called hypocrisy,” the ad’s female narrator says, “and it defines Sara Gideon.”

One version of the ad shows Gideon standing at the speaker’s rostrum holding the gavel and looking to the left; the photo is then flipped showing Gideon in the same stance but looking to the right.

Several variations of the ad have been scheduled to run on social media and a version has also aired on commercial television in Maine.

The ad highlights $156,399 in corporate donations that Gideon’s legislative leadership PAC accepted from 2014 to 2018, including donations from pharmaceutical makers and their trade association, PhRMA.

“… and Gideon claims she won’t take corporate PAC money,” the narrator continues, “But she did.”

But the ad omits critical context: that Gideon’s PAC accepted the corporate contributions well before she became a Senate candidate. Gideon pledged not to accept corporate donations when she announced her campaign in June 2019. 

So far, Gideon’s campaign has not taken any direct corporate PAC funds. However, it has accepted donations from leadership PACs run by members of Congress, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York. And some of the donations to Shumer’s PAC came from corporations.

The ad is accurate in saying Gideon has said she won’t accept corporate cash, and in saying she has accepted corporate funds in the past. But the ad doesn’t accurately detail her current stance on not accepting direct corporate contributions.

In addition, the NRSC ad charges Gideon with using funds from her legislative leadership PAC for personal gain and points to a $500 fine she paid to the Maine Ethics Commission last year. Gideon, who has said she made a mistake based on bad advice, reimbursed herself $500 from the leadership PAC for two $250 donations she had made to other PACs.

Gideon repaid the money and the ethic’s commission staff recommended against issuing a fine because the transactions were fully disclosed, the dollar amounts were relatively low, the activity was three years old and the harm done to the public was minimal. Gideon was facing a maximum fine of $5,000. The amount of the fine, $500, reflected the commission’s view that the violation was minor and likely inadvertent on Gideon’s part.

Overall, the NRSC ad is largely factual, but it also distorts the facts it draws on by placing them out of context or by omitting key details.

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