Then-Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon during a debate at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland on Sept. 11, 2020. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Nearly a year after losing a race that broke state election spending records, Sara Gideon’s U.S. Senate campaign still has more than $10 million in cash.

And it’s not yet clear how the former candidate plans to spent it.

The former Democratic speaker of the Maine House of Representatives failed to unseat Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican now serving her fifth consecutive term. But her campaign raised so much money for the 2020 election that it still had nearly $15 million in unspent cash on Election Day – an unusually large amount, even by federal standards.

The latest federal campaign finance records show the campaign has since donated more than $4 million to other candidates, the Maine Democratic Party and a long list of nonprofits – all legal uses of the money. But whether she will hold on to the remaining funds for a future campaign – also a legal use – or give more money to charities or political campaigns remains unknown.

Gideon and her former campaign staff have declined interview requests and would not provide information about what the remaining unspent funds may be used for. Her campaign said more information could be released in the coming weeks.

The race between Collins and Gideon attracted national attention because it was seen as one of a few key races that might swing the U.S. Senate from Republican to Democratic control. Donors from around the country poured money into the campaigns in hopes that their party’s leaders could be the ones to choose new Supreme Court justices and shape federal policies and laws.


Gideon, 49, is a Freeport resident and former advertising executive for USA Today. A native of Rhode Island, Gideon moved to Freeport in 2004 and served several years on the Town Council before running for the Legislature in 2012. Since her unsuccessful race against Collins, she has kept a low public profile and it remains unclear whether she has future political aspirations or not.

Combined, the Collins and Gideon campaigns raised more than $104 million and spent just over $92 million on the 2020 race. Spending by outside groups on the race also eclipsed records in Maine. Combined spending on the race exceeded $218 million, more than nine times the previous record of just over $23 million, set in 2018 during the race for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District between Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin and then-Democratic challenger state Rep. Jared Golden. Poliquin lost the race but is again seeking his party’s nomination to challenge Golden in 2022.

In the end, Gideon lost the 2020 Senate race by nine percentage points. Democrats took narrow control of the Senate based on wins in other swing states. And despite intensive advertising campaigns, Gideon ran out of time and was left with a huge pile of donations.

In all, Gideon’s campaign raised close to $74.5 million and spent about $63 million. Collins, the Republican incumbent, raised $29.9 million and spent $29.6 million, records with the Federal Election Commission show.

A review of public federal campaign finance records shows some patterns in how the campaign is sharing the money left over, including a growing record of gifts to nonprofit entities in Maine. The most recent reports were filed on Oct. 15 and cover from July 1 through Sept. 30.

“During my time as Speaker and on my Senate campaign, I had the opportunity to see the challenges Mainers are facing, alongside the direct community support work taking place to address those hardships,” Gideon said in July. At the time, she was announcing a round of donations to a range of nonprofits, including $150,000 to the Portland Recovery Community Center, which supports people recovering from addiction, and $100,000 to the Preble Street Resource Center, which serves poor and homeless residents in the Portland area.


“These organizations are making a tremendous impact in every corner of our state and I’m proud to be able to support them,” Gideon said. “My belief in our collective responsibility to improve the lives of others is what has always guided me and what always will.”

Soon after the campaign ended in 2020, Gideon also gave $250,000 to Full Plates, Full Potential, a Brunswick-based nonprofit aimed at ending childhood hunger in Maine, and $100,000 to Keep ME Warm, a heating assistance program run by the United Way of Southern Maine. Other charities she has donated to include the Autism Society of Maine, EqualityMaine, the Wabanaki Women’s Coalition, Winter Kids Maine and Boothbay VETs Inc., short-term shelter for homeless veterans – among others.

Some of the money has gone back into partisan political efforts.

In July, along with announcing it had donated another $1.1 million to Maine nonprofits, the campaign announced $1 million in donations to to state Democratic causes, including a pair of party committees set up to help elect Democrats to the Maine House and Senate.

“This will enable us to strengthen our grassroots infrastructure, build the base, and get Democrats elected up and down the state,” said Maine Democratic Party Chairman Drew Gattine, a former state representative from Westbrook.

Gideon’s campaign also donated to federal Democratic candidates in 2020, giving donations to Cory Booker’s 2020 presidential bid and the U.S. Senate campaigns of  Sens. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Kirsten Gillibrand  of New York. She donated to Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, whose victories in Georgia in 2020 gave Democrats control of the U.S. Senate, and gave $1 million to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, or the DSCC.


Her campaign also continues to earn interest on the unspent funds and has also sold access to the campaign’s donor lists, earning it another $197,000 over the last reporting period, the FEC records show.

Speculation about how Gideon will use the remaining campaign cash and whether it will be used to finance future elections has garnered national media attention, including reports in Roll Call and the online newsmagazine, the Intercept.

While Gideon could sit on the money, saving it for a future bid for Congress or another state office, she could also give it away. Her campaign also could follow the example set by some other prominent Maine politicians who ended campaigns or their careers with unspent political war chests: She could form a nonprofit or charitable entity of her own.

In 1995, former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, a Democrat and former U.S. Senate majority leader, used unspent campaign cash to launch the Mitchell Institute, which among other things awards $10,000 Mitchell Scholarship grants to graduating high school seniors in communities across the state.

Former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, a long-serving Republican who did not seek re-election in 2012, used leftover campaign funds to start the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute, which also offers scholarships to high school students statewide.

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