Maine Sen. Collins considers crowdfunding campaign ‘the equivalent of an attempt to bribe me’

WASHINGTON — A watchdog group is asking the Justice Department to investigate a number of groups they say are bribing Sen. Susan Collins to gain her vote against Brett Kavanaugh, the president’s Supreme Court pick. 

Collins is one of two potential swing votes on Kavanaugh and has seemingly found herself at the center of the nation’s divide over Trump’s second nominee to the high court. The Maine Republican has reported receiving threatening calls and letters as well as more than 3,000 wire coat hangers in a grim reference to the unsafe, illegal abortions that abortion-rights defenders say would follow the end of Roe v. Wade.

But it’s an online crowdfunding campaign by three activists groups that’s raised concerns of bribery. The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) told USA TODAY it is sending a letter to the Justice Department on Thursday asking it investigate the groups, which have raised more than $1.2 million to go to Collins’ opponent if she votes to appoint Kavanaugh. 

“I think this is one of those things where it’s very obvious that outside influence is being used in an attempt to corrupt a member of Congress,” said Kendra Arnold, executive director of FACT. “We expect them to act on merit and it’s pretty clear no matter where you lean politically that this is absolutely an act of bribery and corruption.” 

Collins said she also considers the crowdfunding campaign to be an attempt at bribery. More than 40,000 donors have contributed to the effort, which pledges they won’t be charged if Collins votes against Kavanaugh.

“I consider this quid pro quo fundraising to be the equivalent of an attempt to bribe me to vote against Judge Kavanaugh,” she told the conservative site Newsmax. She also told the Wall Street Journal that two lawyers told her the campaign violated federal bribery law and a third said it was extortion. 

The four-page letter, which was provided to USA TODAY, will be sent to Brian Benczkowski, who heads the Justice Department’s criminal division. The letter asks not only for the investigation of the three groups raising money to oppose Collins, but also that the webpage where people are donating be removed.

The crowdfunding campaign is led by the groups Be A Hero Team, Maine People’s Alliance and Mainers for Accountable Leadership. They say bribery accusations are false and that the First Amendment protects them. 

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