Money didn’t just rain on Democrat Sara Gideon’s failed campaign for the U.S. Senate. It poured.

And now, with the election over, the question hovers like a lingering cloud over the more than $14 million Gideon ran out of ways to spend: What’s she going to do with that residual – and extraordinarily deep – pool of cash?

“If (Gideon) wants to give money to charity, go right ahead,” Walden “Denney” Morton said Thursday in a phone interview from her home in Cape Elizabeth. “But if you’re talking about public airwaves and public monies, or semi-public money, or matching, or whatever, keep it in the public domain and make sure it goes for the common good.”

All of which is Morton’s way of saying that Gideon’s campaign, to which Morton faithfully donated $10 per month for at least the past year, should immediately plow its surplus funds back into the two U.S. Senate races in Georgia, both headed for a runoff election Jan. 5.

If Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock win those contests, control of the U.S. Senate will swing to the Democrats. For Morton, it’s the last line of defense against “crazy (Republican Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell” maintaining his iron grip on how the Senate works – or, more often than not, how it doesn’t work.

Morton contacted the Press Herald last week after reading about Gideon’s Dec. 4 announcement that she would donate $250,000 in surplus campaign funds to Full Plates, Full Potential, a food assistance program for eligible Maine schoolchildren, and $100,000 to Keep ME Warm, a heating assistance program.


That’s $350,000, a lot of money. Unless you compare it to the whopping $14.8 million in unused campaign revenues that the Gideon campaign reported to the Federal Election Commission on the same day the charitable donations were revealed.

Only time will tell whether the gifts signal the start of a philanthropical spree by the former Maine House speaker, or perhaps a carefully calibrated plan to give away some of the money to charity, give some to current political causes, and/or tuck it away for Gideon’s own future plans, if any, to seek public office. Federal law prohibits putting the money to personal use.

For now, however, Gideon’s not talking.

After repeated attempts to reach the candidate last week, campaign spokeswoman Maeve Coyle said in an email that Gideon, who left the Legislature this month because of term limits, was “not available for an interview.”

The two charitable donations, Coyle wrote, reflected Gideon’s feeling that “it was important to address some of the immediate needs Mainers are facing during this incredibly challenging time. Beyond that, Sara intends to take some time to be thoughtful about effectively making change in Mainers’ lives.”

The many and competing tugs on the campaign’s purse strings are already evident in Gideon’s most recent FEC filing. Between Oct. 16 and Nov. 18, prior to reporting the surplus, the campaign made four disbursements to the Maine Democratic Party totaling $3.55 million. The stated purpose of each payments was “Contribution to Federal Committee.”


The campaign also dipped its toe into the Georgia Senate races Nov. 13, donating $2,000 each to Ossoff’s and Warnock’s campaigns – the maximum allowed for donations from one candidate committee to another under FEC rules.

Politically, Team Gideon could do a lot more between now and Jan. 5. In an email Friday, FEC spokesman Christian Hilland noted that a candidate’s committee can contribute up to $5,000 to a traditional political action committee and “there is no limit to how much it can contribute to a Super PAC,” which can raise unlimited funds but must operate independently from a candidate’s campaign.

Hilland added, “Note that campaign committees of federal candidates may also convert to a PAC.”

All of which would be music to the ears of Morton, the Cape Elizabeth reader and retired high school teacher, who sees job one as toppling the Republican Senate majority, while job two is getting the mega-money out of politics.

But isn’t that an inherent contradiction? By funneling most if not all of her leftover $14.8 million into Georgia, wouldn’t Gideon be contributing further to the glut of campaign revenues that left her $74-million-plus campaign with this embarrassment of riches in the first place?

“You can’t change the rules on one side unless you change it on both sides,” Morton replied matter-of-factly. “It’s already there. You can change the rules for the future, but it’s a little bit hard to go backward.”


Actually, there is a way to go backward: Return the money to its donors.

Gideon’s post-election FEC filing also shows that her campaign refunded $174,696 in contributions during the one-month reporting period, almost all of it to individual donors from outside Maine. In fact, during the entire campaign, such refunds totaled just over $1 million.

Think about that. You raised more than $74 million over the course of your campaign (not counting tens of millions in expenditures by outside entities), you gave $1 million of it back and handed off a cool $3.5 million to your party, and you’re still sitting on $14.8 million with no publicly divulged plan for what you’re going to do with it.

Little wonder the Washington, D.C., newspaper Roll Call headlined a story on Gideon last week “Gideon’s Conundrum: What to do with all that extra money.”

In her email, campaign spokeswoman Coyle hinted that Gideon might be looking away from pouring it all back into the political cauldron.

When Gideon first ran for and won a seat on the Freeport Town Council 11 years ago, Coyle said, “She did that with the belief that public service was about improving the lives of the people around you.”


And now?

“As she looks forward, that will guide the decisions she makes in terms of the funds that remain from the campaign,” Coyle said. “She’s done extensive work and is incredibly passionate about lifting children and families out of poverty, tackling the opioid crisis, and women’s economic security.”

Time will tell how much of the campaign’s floodwater flows to those causes – versus how much gets diverted elsewhere.

But one thing is already clear. A common takeaway from her 8-point loss to Sen. Susan Collins in November was that Gideon never gained traction across huge swaths of Maine, that too many voters went to the polls not really feeling they knew her.

Now, by how she channels all that money, Gideon will fill in those blanks.

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