Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) pushed and voted for policies that benefited her husband’s consulting and lobbying business, positions Democrats are set to attack in what is quickly becoming one of the most contentious and expensive Senate races in the country.
Collins is in a tight race with Democratic state House Speaker Sara Gideon in a race Democrats almost certainly need to win to have a chance at taking back control of the U.S. Senate. The race, which has brought an unprecedented barrage of tens of millions of dollars worth of television advertising to Maine, has become increasingly nasty. Democrats and Republicans are now airing television ads attacking the husbands.
“Collins’ husband, a former lobbyist, profited off the opioid crisis,” the male narrator says in an ad from Duty and Honor, a Democratic nonprofit controlled by allies of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
“She tried to raise her taxes, but her family didn’t pay their own taxes on time,” a female narrator says in an ad slamming Gideon, referring to tax liens levied against a condo project her husband invested in. The ad is from 1820 PAC, a super PAC whose largest donors are ultra-wealthy Wall Street executives.
The attacks highlight how the race has become the nastiest of Collins’ long career in politics and show how Democrats are prepared to turn even relatively routine, bipartisan elements of Collins’ four terms in the Senate into fodder for attack ads, arguing she has become an irredeemable creature of the Washington “swamp.”
Republicans, meanwhile, are desperate to find new points of attack on Gideon that could damage her image enough to persuade Maine voters to cast ballots for Collins even though they are likely to vote for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who is almost certain to win the state.
Democrats are ready to take direct aim at Collins’ husband, Thomas Daffron, a longtime Republican operative who served as a chief of staff to three senators and spent the end of his career as the chief operating officer of Jefferson Consulting Group, a lobbying and consulting firm. The company received nearly $60 million worth of government contracts from 2006 to 2016, when Daffron retired.
Collins and Daffron have known each other since the 1970s but began dating in 2010 and married in 2012. For much of that time, Collins was a senior GOP member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, which oversees government contracting.
Two actions Collins took could have directly benefited her future husband’s business: In 2011, Collins voted to repeal a 3% withholding tax on government contractors. In the same year, she led a push to stop President Barack Obama’s administration from implementing a rule requiring government contractors to disclose their political giving.
Collins’ team notes both actions were bipartisan: The Senate vote was 95-0 on the tax repeal. And Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, independent Sen. Joe Lieberman and GOP Sen. Rob Portman all joined Collins in her letter protesting Obama’s proposed rule, which the White House ultimately abandoned.
“Mr. Daffron never once lobbied Sen. Collins on any issue,” said Kevin Kelley, a spokesperson for Collins. “Sara Gideon and her partisan allies continue to be untruthful about Sen. Collins’ record. They want to distract from the fact that Gideon’s $4 million family business skipped paying taxes for four years.”
But a layer of bipartisanship is unlikely to stop Democratic attacks: An ad from another Schumer-backed group, airing now in Maine, criticizes Collins for her authorship of a law that is now blamed for causing massive financial problems at the U.S. Postal Service. The law passed with overwhelming majorities in both chambers of Congress, but the group links Collins’ support to the $200,000 worth of donations from private delivery companies.
“Money changes everything, even Susan Collins,” the narrator says at the end of the ad.
The idea that Collins has shifted from a common-sense centrist to a hack for business and right-wing interest groups has been a central argument in Democratic attacks ads in the race, and Gideon’s allies are almost certain to mine Daffron’s career for nuggets to use against Collins.
But 1820 PAC and Collins have already taken direct aim at Gideon’s husband, Ben, hitting his law firm for receiving a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program, despite Gideon’s criticisms of the program, and for his investments in a condo project that went haywire during the 2008 financial crash. The company formed to handle the condo project was late in paying $57,000 in taxes.
Gideon has said Collins’ attacks overstate her family’s role in the project.
“My husband years and years ago was involved in a business venture, and there were these liens that existed for a short period of time. It was in 2008, when the housing market crashed and, in fact, that business that he was involved with ― not a family business ― did pay off all of the taxes and settled everything with the bank in a timely manner,” she told reporters in Maine last month.