Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine speaks after having lunch with former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush, Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, in Kennebunkport, Maine. Credit: Mary Schwalm | AP

Welcome to Ad Watch, in which the Bangor Daily News’ political team breaks down who is behind political ads you’re seeing and whether what they are saying is true.

A new ad from a Democratic super PAC goes after U.S. Sen. Susan Collins over the opioid epidemic, making two sweeping assertions that link back to only small pieces of her record and personal finances.

While it is accurate in asserting that Collins has not supported some accountability provisions from Democrats, she has also supported measures responding to the opioid crisis. The ad’s most explosive claim — that Collins profited off the epidemic — is based on no more than a few of her husband’s stock sales that the senator has said the couple does not control.

The ad: “Profiting”

Who is behind it

Senate Majority PAC is affiliated with Democratic leadership. It has spent nearly $80 million to boost Democratic U.S. Senate candidates this cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That includes $5 million in the Maine Senate race between the Republican incumbent, House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, and independents Max Linn and Lisa Savage.

As a super PAC, Senate Majority PAC can take unlimited funding from a variety of sources. It has also received millions of dollars through an affiliated dark-money group, Majority Forward, which is difficult to trace. We have fact-checked the group’s ads before, including one about the postal service and one about the 2017 Republican tax bill.

The major claims, with context

The ad first claims that, as Maine’s opioid crisis is getting worse, Collins is “taking tens of thousands of dollars from the opioid distributors.” But the figure comes from contributions her campaign and leadership PAC have received over the course of her career from committees affiliated with McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, CVS and Walmart. The Washington Post identified those companies as top distributors of opioid pills.

Of the money cited in the ad, $20,500 has come since the start of 2019, according to federal data. The fourth-term senator has received less contributions from pharmaceutical affiliates than most senators who have served as long as she has, likely in part because she does not sit on committees with significant industry influence.

Next, the ad claims that Collins voted against holding opioid distributors accountable. That’s based on one 2018 committee vote, in which she voted against an amendment from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, that would have imposed retroactive fines on opioid companies and executives. A Collins spokesperson said the language of that amendment was too broad, noting that three Democrats opposed it as well.

Her campaign noted Collins has voted in favor of significant legislation to address the opioid epidemic, including a bill which required distributors to monitor data to help identify suspicious drug orders. However, she has not indicated support for holding executives criminally liable and requiring manufacturers to reimburse the country for the negative economic impact of the crisis, as Sanders and some Democrats have advocated for.

Lastly, the ad accuses Collins of “profiting off the opioid epidemic,” citing stock owned by her husband, Tom Daffron. The ad cites a Salon article noting that Daffron sold AmerisourceBergen stock in 2013, a year after they were married. Collins’ financial disclosures show that stock was valued between $1,000 and $15,000 when it was sold. He also holds between $15,000 and $50,000 in stock in Johnson & Johnson.

The Collins campaign says the couple’s stock decisions are made by a third-party advisor, not the senator or her husband. The transactions make up a small chunk of their wealth, which lies in a range between $2.3 million and $6.9 million, according to Collins’ most recent disclosure.