With the conclusion of three days of intense—even showboat-y—questioning of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, public attention has shifted to one of the elected officials who actually holds the fate of Kavanaugh’s confirmation: Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
One group hopes to influence Collins’ vote with a small fortune in campaign contributions to her next political opponent—whoever they may be.
Two political action committees based in Collins’ home state, the Maine People’s Alliance and Mainers for Accountable Leadership, have joined forces with progressive activist Ady Barkan to crowdfund in support of the senator’s Democratic opponent in 2020, despite the Maine Democratic primary not being scheduled for roughly 21 months.
As of this writing, the campaign has raised a stunning $1,014,940, with every dollar earmarked for Collins’ eventual Democratic opponent if Collins fails, in the words of the campaign, “to stand up for the people of Maine and for Americans across the country” by voting against Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
By comparison, Collins’ Democratic opponent raised a mere $2.3 million during Maine’s most recent Senate campaign, making the nearly $1 million fund a jackpot for an ambitious Maine Democrat hoping to unseat the four-term senator. (Collins raised $6.2 million, and won re-election with nearly 70 percent of the vote.)
In a note addressed to Collins, the joint campaign calls on the senior senator from Maine “to be a hero” by voting against Kavanaugh, whose potential votes on Obamacare and abortion access “is a threat to everyday Mainers like us.”
The tactic of fundraising on spec in hopes of swinging a critical vote is a new one in the Pine Tree State, according to the Maine People’s Alliance communications director Mike Tipping.
“I’m not aware of it being used elsewhere, certainly not to this degree,” Tipping told The Daily Beast. The campaign, though backed by two PACs, is actually the brainchild of progressive activist Ady Barkan, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2017 and has since become an outspoken advocate for protecting Affordable Care Act provisions that prevent insurance companies from refusing to cover people with preexisting health conditions like his.
“If Susan Collins votes to confirm this terrible nominee, we will use your money to replace her with someone better in 2020,” Barkan said in a Twitter video supporting the campaign. “That’s what people power looks like.”
For Maine residents who are disappointed with Collins’ self-described centrism, Tipping said, there’s plenty of evidence that her public support of abortion access and key Obamacare provisions may not hold up under pressure from the White House.
“There are many Mainers who were disappointed that Collins voted for tax breaks for the wealthy despite promising not to,” Tipping said. “They see her claims that Kavanaugh isn't a threat to abortion rights or the Affordable Care Act as another dishonest betrayal.”
(Collins’ office disputed that the senator ever promised to vote against against the $1.5 trillion tax bill.)
Collins, one of just three Republican senators who publicly support the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that found a constitutional right to abortion access, was seen by outside groups as a crucial confirmation vote before President Donald Trump even named his pick to replace outgoing Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Now, with Kavanaugh emerging from bruising confirmation hearings as the most unpopular Supreme Court nominee in decades, according to a CNN poll, groups on both sides of the abortion issue are waging a war on multiple fronts to decide his fate on the nation’s highest court, with Collins as a primary target.
Collins’ office dismissed the campaign as tantamount to bribery—and ineffective bribery, at that.
“Anybody who thinks these kinds of tactics work doesn’t know Senator Collins,” Annie Clark, Collins’ communications director, told The Daily Beast. “This crowdfunded money to pressure Senator Collins is based on a quid pro quo… It is basically a bribe. These tactics will not work—Senator Collins will make up her mind based on the merits of the nomination.”
If Collins does vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation—something she has never done for any Supreme Court nominee during her time in the Senate, no matter the president’s party affiliation—the group will return the funds to its donors (in part because donating the funds to Collins in exchange for her vote would definitely amount to bribery).
Collins, for her part, told the Portland Press-Herald on Friday that she remains undecided on Kavanaugh’s confirmation, but is heartened by Kavanaugh’s description of the Roe decision as a strong precedent.
“I know it’s frustrating to the press, but until I finish my review I’m going to defer my decision-making,” Collins said. “I have been involved in confirmation hearings for six Supreme Court justices. I have always waited until hearings are done and until I have reviewed the paperwork and cases.”