U.S. Senate candidate Sara Gideon has said she does not support defunding the police, but a new ad from opponents tries to tie Gideon to the controversial catch phrase by leaving out facts about her record and the police reform movement.

The television ad released Thursday by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, a political action committee aimed at electing Republicans to the Senate, claims Gideon campaign staffers donated to a legal fund that “helped bail out violent criminals” and that Gideon skipped a Democratic primary debate to fundraise with a “Defund the Police” billionaire.

It also claims Gideon voted repeatedly to cut police funding in the Maine Legislature. “You just can’t trust her,” the female narrator says as the ad draws to a close.

The ad tries to build its case against Gideon by first pointing to instances of her campaign staff donating to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, a nonprofit that raises criminal bail and immigration bonds for those who can’t otherwise afford it. The group was started in 2016 but received an influx of more than $30 million in donations following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis this summer.

This tweet shows an ad attacking Sara Gideon.

Some members of Gideon’s campaign staff were among those who donated during the nationwide response to the Black Lives Matter movement this summer, according to a report by the conservative website Washington Free Beacon, which documented seven cases of Gideon staff publicizing their donations on Twitter. Her campaign said staff who donated did so in a personal capacity.

The fund says it prioritizes paying bail for black, indigenous and people of color; those experiencing homelessness; and those who have been detained while fighting for justice, but the ad claims the fund has bailed out, “rioters, looters and an alleged child abuser.”

It’s true Minnesota Freedom Fund has bailed out at least one defendant who went on to be arrested again shortly after his release from jail. In August, Lionel Timms was arrested on an assault charge in an incident that left the victim with a traumatic brain injury, according to local news reports.

This image is taken from an ad that attacks Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Sara Gideon.

But the freedom fund also issued a statement afterward condemning Timms’ behavior, saying he didn’t have the support necessary after leaving jail and committing to finding better ways to support those bailed out. And it has pledged to improve internal procedures for providing post-bail support as part of its mission to create more equitable pre-trial experiences.

NRSC’s ad also claims Gideon skipped a July debate with Democratic challengers in order to “fundraise with a ‘Defund the Police’ billionaire.”

While it’s true Gideon didn’t attend the WMTW debate with Betsy Sweet and Bre Kidman, her campaign said the invitation was declined weeks in advance. The event referenced in the ad was hosted by GiveGreen, a coalition that seeks to elect pro-environment candidates and that includes NextGen America, a group founded by former Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer to get out the youth vote and elect Democrats.

A media contact for Steyer, who is referred to in the ad as a ” ‘Defund the Police’ billionaire” in a headline from the Maine Examiner, a website run by the executive director of the Maine Republican Party, did not respond to an email Thursday.

NextGen has used the phrase “Defund the Police” to call for actions such as demilitarizing police departments and withholding pensions for law enforcement involved in acts of excessive force and discrimination.

The group aligns itself with the Movement for Black Lives, which supports defunding the police, not necessarily in the sense of the immediate elimination of all law enforcement, but rather a reorganization and demilitarization of policing.

Gideon, meanwhile, has said she does not support defunding the police, including at the Sept. 11 debate hosted by News Center Maine, the Press Herald and Bangor Daily News, where she said, “I want to be very clear, I do not support defunding the police. I do think we need to make sure that we make changes to ensure that people of color do not continue to be brutalized or killed.”

In the ad Wednesday, the NRSC says Gideon voted repeatedly for a bill that cut the Maine State Police budget by more than $200,000. What the ad leaves out, however, is that the bill it references was a $6.7 billion biennial budget.

Though the budget included about $250,000 less in the 2016-2017 allocations than in the 2015-2016 allocations, the total $67 million budget for State Police was actually a $4.45 million increase over the previous biennial budget. Most of the difference between the two allocations came from a one-time capital expenditures line of $156,000 for equipment in 2015-2016.


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