In this June 9, 2020, file photo Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is followed by reporters as she arrives for the weekly Republican policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington. Credit: Susan Walsh / AP

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ political committee was “not aware” two Republican legislative candidates espoused the far-right conspiracy theory QAnon when it donated to them in September, a spokesperson for the Maine senator said on Friday.

The two $400 donations, first reported by the magazine Mainer on Friday, were made in September by Dirigo PAC, a federal committee affiliated with the Republican senator that has long served to maintain Collins’ deep connections with legislative candidates in her party. Dirigo PAC gave more than $115,000 to Republican candidates of all stripes between 2010 and 2017.

Collins’ committee ramped back up in 2020 as she faces a tough bid for a fifth term against House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Democrat who has set fundraising records and led the incumbent in public polling in a race also including independents Lisa Savage and Max Linn.

The senator’s political committee gave more than $56,000 to state-level Republican campaigns and PACs this year, including $400 each to 50 state legislative candidates who comprise about half of the privately funded Republicans who could accept these donations, according to state records.

They included Kevin Bushey, a retired Air Force colonel from Ashland, and Brian Redmond of Fort Fairfield, who are among 23 current or former legislative candidates across the country to subscribe to the QAnon conspiracy theory, according to the liberal Media Matters. QAnon believers hold that President Donald Trump is taking on a cabal of Satanist pedophiles.

In a statement on Friday, Collins campaign spokesperson Annie Clark said the senator “denounces QAnon” and its conspiracy theories. She said the committee makes contributions at the recommendation of House Republican leaders and it was “not aware of the activities of these two individuals at the time these two donations were made.”

“Dirigo PAC will likely reconsider its vetting process in the future,” Clark said.

Bushey, who lost to Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, in 2018 and is facing him again this year, has fashioned himself as a leader in the movement through his involvement in an online “ministry” that mixes the conspiracies with Christianity. Its messaging blends calls for peace with contradictory violent rhetoric about groups it sees as enemies. 

For example, pseudo-prayers on a website linked to Bushey call for anti-Trump “moles” in U.S. intelligence agencies to receive “Divine justice,” military tribunals and “God-declared executions” and several progressive groups to be “completely uprooted and decimated from our land.”

Bushey has spoken about his views publicly, including on a podcast in May. He told host Crash Barry he became involved in the movement in 2017 and he has also joined a fringe call for Gov. Janet Mills’ impeachment over coronavirus restrictions. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Redmond, a first-time candidate taking on Rep. David McCrea, D-Fort Fairfield, recently had his Twitter account suspended in a crackdown on QAnon supporters as part of the company’s efforts to crack down on misinformation. He said the suspension happened on Oct. 1. Among his final tweets as he and other conspiracy theorists were losing their platforms was one saying “nothing can stop what is coming.”

Redmond, who described the movement in an interview as a group of “Christ-like figures searching for the truth,” said he did not know the donations from Collins were coming and had no contact with her campaign. 

But they did not surprise him, because he expected Republicans to back anyone challenging a Democrat. He received $400 from the House Republican Fund in September, whose principal officer is House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, as did Bushey.

“I thought they were very routine,” said Redmond, who did not know if Collins was aware of his political beliefs when the donation was made.

While he said the money was nice, Redmond doubted he would end up using it because it came in too late to be useful to his campaign — he has already bought enough signs and flyers to carry him through Election Day. He said he would probably explore returning or donating it.

BDN writer Jessica Piper contributed to this report.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...