Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, takes her seat for a hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington on Thursday. Credit: Cliff Owen | AP

As a former two-term president of the Maine Senate, I can tell you firsthand it’s not always easy to make the right choice. Because the stakes are so high, there’s often a great amount of pressure surrounding important decisions and key votes. How lawmakers handle that pressure distinguishes great public servants from the rest.

While I haven’t always agreed with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ positions, her strength in adversity has always brought a great sense of pride to our state, and I truly believe we are lucky to have someone of her caliber representing us in Washington.

In spite of her reputation as an honest, hardworking, fiercely bipartisan lawmaker, dark money has already started to flow into our state at an alarming rate to diminish her well-earned reputation. Even though the election is more than a year away, nearly $1 million has been spent to mislead Maine voters about Collins’ voting record.

Above all else, Mainers value honesty and transparency, but that’s not what we’re getting. Recently, a group called 16 Counties Coalition, or Maine Momentum, released an ad that The Washington Post deemed “mostly false,” giving it “3 Pinocchios” out of four for its dishonesty.

In an underhanded attempt to intimidate our elderly citizens, the ad claims that Collins “put Medicare and Social Security in jeopardy” by supporting the tax cut package in December 2017. To back up its claim, the group cited an article from November 2017 that expressed concerns about some procedural rules that would have triggered an automatic $25 billion cut in Medicare.

In reality, Collins, out of deep concern for our seniors, sponsored legislation to fix this problem, protecting Medicare from automatic cuts. Her bill, which garnered broad bipartisan support, and was praised by AARP that said, “Congress has acted to prevent mandatory funding cuts to Medicare … as a result of the new tax overhaul legislation.”

The ad also falsely claims that Collins “Took over $5 million from corporate donors.” This simply can’t be true. It is explicitly against federal election law for candidates to accept money from corporations.

This line of attack is very ironic given that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s preferred candidate to challenge Collins recently admitted to improperly donating money to candidates for federal office. Personal donations made to support federal candidates were later reimbursed by using corporate political funds. A clear violation of federal election law.

The political operatives attacking Collins will stop at nothing to try to deceive Mainers about her record. They have attacked Collins with false charges that are actually better placed with their own candidate and they use campaign finance and tax loopholes to fund their expensive ad buys and “ town hall” style meetings around the state. They are also exploiting those same loopholes to shield their donors from public scrutiny.

Everyone knows the popular saying, “If it looks like a duck…” Even though the 16 Counties Coalition claims to be a 501 (c)(4) “educational” organization that does not engage in campaign politics, we all know that campaign politics is exactly what they are doing. We are more than a full year ahead of the 2020 election cycle and you can’t turn on the evening news without these distorted attacks playing over and over again.

Last year, as I concluded 12 years serving in Augusta, I shared one piece of advice with the members of the current Legislature. I told them to be bound by the truth, and to attack the issues, not the person. If these liberal organizations want to have a conversation about who will best represent Maine in the U.S. Senate, let’s have that conversation. But let’s also make sure that conversation is bound by the truth.

The Maine media can help our political discourse by exposing falsehoods and holding groups like 16 Counties Coalition accountable for their dishonest tactics and messaging. By doing so, the people of Maine will get a better campaign. Maine voters deserve transparency and honesty, and currently, that’s not what we’re currently getting.

Mike Thibodeau of Winterport is the former president of the Maine Senate.