New complaint claims GOP group made 'blatantly illegal ad' for Susan Collins

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The complaint alleges that a Republican Jewish Coalition ad was an illegal contribution to Collins' campaign.

An ethics group on Monday filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission alleging that a GOP group made an illegal campaign contribution to Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins' reelection campaign.

The complaint from the American Democracy Legal Fund surrounds an ad from the Republican Jewish Coalition, in which former Sen. Joe Lieberman endorses Collins' bid.

The complaint alleges that "more than half of the 30-second ad contained footage that the Collins For Senator ("the Collins Committee") had produced, created, and posted online."

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Because of that, the complaint says the ad qualified as a "republication" of Collins' campaign materials and amounts to an illegal donation to Collins' campaign.

Nearly the entirety of the ad uses what's known as "B-roll" footage produced by Collins campaign, in which Collins is seen glad-handing with constituents.

Federal candidates have started to put  "B-roll" footage online so that outside groups and super PACs can find it to use in ads supporting their candidates while technically avoiding direct coordinating with candidates. Candidates and PACs are barred from coordinating with each other by law.

The practice became popular in the 2014 cycle, thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who posted an awkward video of himself smiling. Former "Daily Show" host John Stewart dubbed the practice "McConnelling."

It's unlikely the FEC will take any action on the complaint. The body — which is supposed to police campaign finance law — is virtually toothless, as it currently does not have a quorum to vote on punishments.

As for the ad, the Republican Jewish Coalition is likely hoping that an endorsement from Lieberman boosts Collins' bipartisan credibility.

But Lieberman, who calls himself a "lifelong Democrat" despite switching his political affiliation to independent in 2006, endorsed John McCain for president in 2008. And Lieberman was apparently under consideration to be FBI chief under Trump, though that never came to fruition.

Collins has historically received cross-over votes from Democrats, but that's in doubt in 2020, thanks to backlash over Collins' support of Donald Trump's radical nominees, as well as her vote to acquit Trump of the impeachment charges he faced.

Collins' reelection bid is currently rated a toss-up by the nonpartisan political handicapping outlet Inside Elections.

Polling, however, shows Collins' Democratic opponent Sara Gideon with a 4.5% lead over Collins, according to the RealClearPolitics average.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.