Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has been the object of liberal ire since her 2018 vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Now in a tight re-election fight, whatever hopes she might have had of putting that episode behind her were dashed this week, when now-Justice Kavanaugh cast a dissenting vote in the Supreme Court’s latest decision to uphold the legal framework that grants access to women seeking abortions.
But the legacy of Collins’ vote on Kavanaugh hasn’t been all bad for the longtime Maine senator. In fact, it’s appeared to earn her some powerful and deep-pocketed new allies.
Collins, who’s staked out a brand as a pro-choice moderate Republican over her nearly 24 years in the Senate, has historically never been a favorite in the conservative legal circles embodied by the Federalist Society, a leading group of right-of-center attorneys and legal thinkers.
But that, apparently, has changed dramatically since Collins’ fateful vote. Since 2019, Collins’ campaign and two associated political action committees have raked in nearly $200,000 from donors who are also high-dollar contributors to the Federalist Society. Many of those who gave to Collins had never cut a check for her before.
The group of 39 donors includes Leonard Leo, the former executive vice president of the Federalist Society and a driving force behind President Trump and the Senate GOP’s historically successful efforts to stock the federal bench with conservative judges.
Leo and his wife, Sally—neither of whom had previously donated to Collins—each gave the maximum $5,600 to Collins’ campaign committee last year. Half of Leo’s support came by way of a joint fundraising committee supporting three other Senate Republicans. Last summer, Leo hosted a fundraiser for Collins at his newly bought Maine vacation home, an event that appeared to open up more Federalist Society funds for the senator.
Leo was one of five Federalist Society-associated first-time donors to Collins, a group that also included Daniel Casey. Casey is the president of the Judicial Crisis Network, a group with ties to the Federalist Society that led the charge for Kavanaugh’s confirmation. GOP mega-donors linked to the group also got on board with Collins after her vote. Philip Anschutz, the billionaire whose foundation supports the Federalist Society, gave $5,600, the per-cycle maximum, to Collins’ campaign.
The Lugar Center — led by former U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) and Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy — compiled the bi-partisanship index as it does every year.
Collins earned top marks in the Senate by supporting proposals written by Democrats, and getting them to sign on to her ideas. As of early this week, she backed 199 bills authored on the other side of the aisle, and at least one Senator crossed over to get behind 41 of Collins' proposals.
It's her seventh straight year topping the Senate list and her highest score yet.
Collins says her reputation as a bi-partisan bridge builder reflects Maine practicality, her natural moderate tendencies, and conscious efforts to reach across the aisle.
But, she’s also gotten caught in the middle of controversy: a prominent swing vote on impeachment — voting for additional witnesses but against conviction, Supreme Court confirmations, 2017’s tax cuts, and saving Obamacare.
“Those were all tough decisions and I stand by each of them,” she said, “when you are in the middle there are times you take slings and arrows from both sides.”
Collins who is up for re-election this year — is the least popular senator with her own constituents according to the most recent Morning Consult survey, covering the last quarter of 2019.
“She really is in that position of damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” said Georgetown University Political Science Professor Mark Rom.
During the acrimonious 2018 Senate fight over Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, activists launched a crowdfunding campaign for Sen. Susan Collins’ would-be challenger if the Maine Republican voted for confirmation.
Opposition to Collins, who ultimately voted to put Kavanaugh on the high court, took the form of more than $4 million in donations, including some made as recently as this week after Kavanaugh sided against a high-profile abortion rights decision. The company that raised it took about 8 percent off the top initially, but $3.7 million sits in the fund, waiting for Maine’s Democratic primary to be over in a fortnight.
The campaign of Sara Gideon, speaker of the state’s House of Representatives and the front-runner in a three-candidate primary, is the expected recipient of the windfall.
The earmarked contributions, and their circuitous journey from donor to candidate and the conditions set out before the Kavanaugh vote, add an interesting twist in one of the nation’s priciest and most pivotal Senate contests. And they serve as a reminder of why Collins, who easily won reelection six years ago by 37 points, is among the most vulnerable Republican senators this cycle.
The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision Monday, overturned a controversial Louisiana law that would have severely limited the number of abortion clinics in the state. Kavanaugh, whose nomination fight in the Senate was dominated by a long-ago allegation of sexual assault, was among the justices on the losing side who would have upheld the restrictive law.
The “decision is a victory for reproductive freedom and protects the precedent set by Roe v. Wade,” Gideon said in a Twitter fundraising appeal. “But don’t forget: Republicans won’t stop attacking reproductive health care or nominating anti-choice judges like Kavanaugh, who Senator Collins voted to confirm.”
Collins said in a statement that she agreed with the Supreme Court’s decision in the case and added that “while Justice Kavanaugh called for additional fact finding in this case, he gave no indication in his dissenting opinion that he supports overturning Roe.”
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