Upon entering the race last year, Jacqueline Sartoris said she faced an uphill battle to unseat incumbent Cumberland County District Attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck in the Democratic primary.

Fast forward to her victory Tuesday, when town-by-town results flowed in and Sartoris had a substantial lead in nearly every community.

“I knew we worked hard,” Sartoris said Wednesday. “We didn’t leave anything on the table. But I honestly thought the vote would be closer, just with the campaign we ran with $22,000.”

Jacqueline Sartoris and Jonathan Sahrbeck

Enter the Maine Justice & Public Safety Political Action Committee, an out-of-state group that spent more than $380,000 on advertisements opposing Sahrbeck and supporting Sartoris.

The PAC – which started out with $300,000 from national Democratic donor George Soros – spent roughly $134,000 on printed advertisements, $120,000 on web ads, $67,000 on television ads and a little more than $60,000 on radio ads.

Sartoris said she is not involved with the PAC, citing campaign finance laws that would make that interaction illegal.


She wasn’t even aware of the advertisements, Sartoris said Wednesday, until days after her campaign sent out 26,000 “hand-stamped and hand-signed” postcards to a targeted list of regular Democratic primary voters.

She said there’s no way to know what impact the group had. “It’s kind of a bummer I’ll never know what would’ve happened on the campaign’s own efforts,” Sartoris said.

If anything, Sartoris said, she had expected the advertisements to result in a higher voter turnout. Yet only about 23,000 people cast a ballot in the race, roughly 9 percent of active registered voters in Cumberland County.

Considering the 15,209 ballots cast in Sartoris’ favor, the PAC spent roughly $25 per vote. Sahrbeck spent about $51,000 on his campaign.

The PAC has not revealed how the race came to their attention and why they decided to back Sartoris, a 57-year-old former Brunswick town councilor who has worked for the last four years as an assistant district attorney in Augusta. Neither PAC president Whitney Tymas, nor consultants for the PAC from Washington D.C.-based Berlin Rosen, responded to questions Wednesday about how the race came to their attention and what they impact their efforts had.

In a brief emailed statement, Tymas said her organization is “committed to supporting candidates who will deliver real safety and reform.”


“We were proud to support Jacqueline Sartoris because she is committed to smart reform with real transparency to make Cumberland County safer and more just,” Tymas wrote.

Tymas oversees the national Justice & Public Safety PAC, which also has invested in similar DA races in Iowa, Arkansas and Northern California, The Associated Press reported.

Flyers from the Soros PAC focused on Sahrbeck’s political history, winning as an independent candidate in the 2018 election and being a registered Republican for most of his adult life before that.

Sartoris campaigned on the same message, telling voters she is a lifelong Democrat. Yet, as the PAC’s presence dominated news coverage around the race, she said the matter overshadowed some of the more issue-based differences between her and Sahrbeck.

Sartoris has promised to set more transparent and data-driven policies than Sahrbeck, whose own campaign has focused heavily on community outreach and prevention of crime.

Sahrbeck did not respond to requests for an interview Wednesday by text or email, but has said in earlier interviews he’s concerned with the precedent this out-of-state money sets for local Maine elections.


Spending $380,000 on a local election is unusual for Maine’s city and county-level races in general, said political science professor Jim Melcher of the University of Maine at Farmington. The fact that this PAC invested in one of the only two contested primary elections for district attorney, in a year where no district attorney is facing any declared challengers in November, is even more strange.

“That’s a lot of money for a local election,” Melcher said. “Not that many people would normally have a strong opinion in this kind of race.”

Sahrbeck issued a statement late Tuesday conceding the race.

“While ultimately the outcome was not what my supporters and I wanted, I’m proud of the campaign we ran and the work we’ve accomplished together,” Sahrbeck said in a written statement. “As she officially moves into the role in the coming months, I will assist Jackie in the transition to ensure the best possible outcome for the people of Cumberland County.”

Sartoris said on Wednesday that she’s eager to spend the next six months seeking input from law enforcement agencies throughout the county, who work with the district attorney’s office, and various advocacy groups.

She also will eventually transition out of her job with the District Attorney’s office in Kennebec County, where for the last four years she has overseen two of the district’s treatment courts for people with substance use disorder.

Sartoris faces no Republican or independent opponents on the ballot for the general election in November. The only way Sartoris could lose the seat in November is if an opponent steps forward and mounts a successful write-in campaign.

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