House Speaker and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Sara Gideon speaks with her staff and the owner of Harvest Moon Deli outside the sandwich shop in downtown Bangor on Election Day. Credit: Natalie Williams | BDN

A crowdfunded $4 million raised by progressives over U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ 2018 vote for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh is set to go to House Speaker Sara Gideon’s campaign after she won the Democratic nomination for Collins’ seat in Tuesday’s primary election.

The funds will add to Gideon’s already record-breaking $23 million as of late June in a highly watched race that is seeing significant spending from outside groups on both sides. They come as Collins and Gideon have wasted little time in kicking off what will be a contentious general election campaign.

The controversy over Kavanaugh’s nomination, which drew national Democrats into Maine’s 2020 U.S. Senate race, led Collins’ opponents to raise more to oppose her in weeks than they did during her entire 2014 re-election race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Collins was considered a pivotal vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination in the fall of 2018. She has described herself as pro-abortion rights and said she would not confirm a justice who showed hostility to Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that legalized abortion. A year earlier, in 2017, Kavanaugh ruled against allowing an undocumented minor to access an abortion.

While Collins was publicly undecided on how she would vote, a group of activists from three liberal groups — Be a Hero, the Maine People’s Alliance and Mainers for Accountable Leadership — set up an effort asking donors to pledge money to Collins’ eventual opponent if she voted to confirm Kavanaugh. Money would be refunded if Collins voted against the justice.

It was a new frontier in campaign finance, training thousands of donors on one vote of one senator. Collins was critical of the fundraising effort at the time, likening it to “bribery.” Her campaign reiterated that attack in a Wednesday video on social media. She ultimately voted to confirm Kavanaugh, which also led to what was then the best fundraising quarter of her career.

Julia Barnes, executive director of Be a Hero, called Collins’ accusations of bribery “callous,” saying the Republican was not being bribed but “held accountable for her actions by her constituents.” Since the Kavanaugh vote, the money has sat in accounts held by the fundraising platforms ActBlue and CrowdPac earmarked for the eventual Democratic nominee.

Barnes said the fundraising would transfer to Gideon’s campaign within 10 days. She said a bit more than $4 million was raised in total, though Gideon’s campaign would ultimately be left with slightly less than that because the platforms charge fees of between 3 and 8 percent.

The funding is entirely from individual contributors. If a donor who gave to the fund also gave to Gideon’s campaign and the combined totals exceed campaign contribution limits, Gideon’s campaign must refund the contribution, as it would with any contribution, Barnes said.

Gideon has outpaced Collins on fundraising so far, with a total of $23 million raised as of late June compared to $16 million for Collins. The race is already the most expensive in Maine’s history. Two independents, Lisa Savage, formerly of the Green party, and Max Linn, a pro-Trump conservative, will be on the ballot alongside Gideon and Collins in November. The race will use ranked-choice voting.