The sexual assault allegation against Judge Brett Kavanaugh from three decades ago has driven political passions over his nomination — already at a fever pitch — to a new high. And many Democrats who don’t want to see Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court have directed their energy (and sometimes anger) at moderate GOP Senator Susan Collins of Maine.
Collins says those passions have driven some anti-Kavanaugh activists over the line.
For weeks, Sen. Collins and her staff have received threats of violence — including rape. “In one case — and we are going to turn this over to the police, but unfortunately, of course, the person didn’t leave a name or number — but they actually threatened to rape one of my young female staffers,” Collins said.
A Democrat in Congress, Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, sent a tweet Thursday morning mocking Sen. Collins over her concerns.
“Boo hoo hoo. You’re a senator who police will protect. A sexual assault victim can’t sleep in her home tonight because of threats. Where are you sleeping? She’s on her own while you and your @SenateGOP colleagues try to rush her through a hearing,” Rep. Swalwell tweeted. After a social media backlash, Swalwell deleted the tweet and issued an apology:
“Sexual assault victims deserve respect. And senators shouldn’t be threatened by the public,” the congressman said. “I said something stupid and minimized ugly behavior. That tweet is deleted and I’m sorry for that.”
Other opponents of Kavanaugh’s appointment have launched a crowdfunding campaign to sway her vote. The campaign’s specific goal is to raise about $1.3 million (it is already 99 percent of the way to its goal) which it will then donate to Collins’ Democratic opponent in the 2020 Maine election — if Collins votes to confirm Kavanaugh.
If Collins votes against Kavanaugh’s confirmation, the campaign will not charge the credit cards of any its donors to provide the funds to Collins’ Democratic challenger.
Collins told Newsmax the effort “will not influence my vote at all,” and she believes it may even be a crime. She said as much to The Wall Street Journal, which cites her as saying she’s had “three attorneys” tell her that the crowdfunding campaign could be a violation of federal bribery laws. Some Collins supporters — including the Journal — agree, and say the threat violates federal bribery law outlined in Section 201 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code.
The law reads that whoever “directly or indirectly, corruptly gives, offers or promises anything of value to any public official or person who has been selected to be a public official, or offers or promises any public official or any person who has been selected to be a public official to give anything of value to any other person or entity, with intent — to influence any official act … shall be fined under this title or not more than three times the monetary equivalent of the thing of value.”
According to the law, the crowdfunding campaign is “indirectly” promising “something of value” (threatening to give funds to an opponent) to “influence an official act” (Collins’ vote).
At first glance, it looks like Collins’ bribery claim rings true.
But Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow for the Heritage Foundation, said it’s “unclear” whether the crowdfunding campaign is violating the federal bribery statute.
“I think it might approach the line, but a prosecutor and a federal grand jury might look at it and decide either way,” he told InsideSources. “This situation is very different to how this statute has always been used.”
Richard Hansen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California–Irvine School of Law, wrote in a Slate post that “the Maine groups did not violate Section 201. The groups are not promising anything of value to Collins to vote in a particular way; nor are they promising anything to Collins’ (now unknown) opponent for the opponent to vote in a certain way. This behavior does not come close to violating the federal bribery statute.”
Political action committees (PACs) raise millions of dollars to donate to campaigns and give money to indirectly influence legislation and political decisions all the time, as do large corporations and Silicon Valley, lobbying for specific outcomes in Washington.
Billionaires like John Arnold of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and the Koch Brothers of the Koch family foundations and their beneficiaries donate millions to various campaigns and causes to further their private interests or pet social and economic issues.
According to federal law, only corporations and unions are banned from making direct contributions to a political candidate’s campaign.
None of the groups behind the crowdfunding campaign threatening Collins — including Mainers for Accountable Leadership and the Maine’s People Alliance — are unions or corporations.
Von Spakovsky said what could be more concerning is whether corporations are giving to the crowdfunding campaign, and whether individual givers are giving within the $2,700 federal limit.
The campaign doesn’t provide a full list of who all has contributed, but does show that 42,466 of the 46,383 total pledges are amounts of $20.20, $25, $50 and $250.
On the crowdfunding campaign’s website, Jonathan Berkon, a partner in Perkins Coie’s Political Law Group is cited as saying, “Through this grassroots effort, Mainers are making clear to Sen. Collins that they will defeat her for reelection if she defies the will of the people and votes to confirm Judge Kavanaugh. The First Amendment guarantees their right to do so. And federal law protects their right to pool their funds together now, when enthusiasm is at its peak, so that their campaign against a well-funded, four-term incumbent is viable two years from now. It is shameful that Republicans are using bogus legal threats to stifle this grassroots enthusiasm.”