Bellows’ ‘strong’ fundraising dwarfed by Collins’ campaign war chest

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and her 2014 Democratic opponent, Shenna Bellows. Reuters photo (Collins) by Joshua Roberts. BDN photo (Bellows) by Troy Bennett. Photo illustration by Mario Moretto.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (left) and her 2014 Democratic opponent, Shenna Bellows. Reuters photo (Collins) by Joshua Roberts. BDN photo (Bellows) by Troy R. Bennett. Photo illustration by Mario Moretto.

Shenna Bellows, a Democrat who is opposing Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in the November election, announced Monday that she has raised $332,241 to date and hopes to raise $3 million to spend on her campaign.

Bellows said her total funds raised to date have exceeded her expectations, but in the context of past U.S. Senate races involving Collins, Bellows has a lot of money left to gather in the coming months to be financially competitive.

The Federal Election Commission filing deadline for the fourth quarter of 2013 isn’t until the end of January, but Bellows said Monday that she opted to release her numbers early to demonstrate that her campaign is attracting widespread grassroots support. According to figures from her campaign, which have not yet been posted by the FEC, more than 81 percent of donors to date gave $100 or less, which Bellows said demonstrates that a wide swath of everyday Mainers are supporting her.

“We want to demonstrate that this is a campaign that represents Maine, not large corporate interests,” said Bellows on Monday morning. “What gives me hope in this campaign is the extraordinary diversity of support from Republicans, independents, Democrats and Greens alike. … This is what a U.S. Senate campaign should look like.”

Steve Abbott, who is Collins’ chief of staff, said Monday that by the FEC filing deadline on January 31, he expects that Collins will have nearly $3 million in cash on hand. He said he expects campaign staff hires by the end of the month and that Collins will be campaigning in earnest by spring.

“The money is important but even more than the money, what’s important for Sen. Collins is that she continue to work hard,” said Abbott. “Her priority has always been to do her job. … The campaign will take care of itself.”

Abbott said the Collins campaign spent about $4 million in 2002 and close to $8 million in 2008. She is on track to conduct another multi-million-dollar campaign this year.

According to the FEC, Collins collected more than $2.2 million between January 1, 2013 and September 30, 2013. About $1.7 million of that, representing about 51 percent of the total, was from itemized and unitemized individual donations. Collins also collected $894,000 from numerous political action committees.

Bellows, the former executive director of the American Civil Liberties of Maine, said she has received 1,771 contributions to date, including from residents of 337 towns in all 16 Maine counties. Bellows launched her campaign and started raising money in early October, with the goal of collecting donations from every Maine town. Her recent entry in the race could be one reason her fundraising totals for 2013 are small compared to Collins’ for the first three quarters of that year.

Bellows knows she’ faces a tough fight against the incumbent Collins, who has been in the U.S. Senate since 1997, and early polling has supported that notion. According to survey results from Public Policy Polling in mid-November — barely a month after Bellows announced her candidacy — Collins was ahead of Bellows 59 percent to 20 percent, with 22 percent undecided. Collins had majority support among Republicans, independents and Democrats, according to the poll.

But those numbers don’t deter Bellows, a native of Hancock and daughter of a carpenter, who has become a highly visible political figure in recent years through her lobbying at the State House on behalf of the ACLU. Bellows said Monday that she won’t take any PAC money from fossil fuel groups, because of her focus on addressing climate change, or large banking organizations, who she said contributed to the financial meltdown of 2008.

“It’s unfortunate that political campaigns cost millions of dollars,” she said. “Carpenter’s daughters don’t usually run for Congress and that is why we have a Congress of millionaires.”

Bellows is using some of her campaign cash to hire staff. Recent hires include Sarah Woodard of Freeport, who will lead Bellows’ in-state fundraising efforts. Woodard is married to Colin Woodard, an investigative journalist for the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram. Bellows also hired Chad Hunter, a veteran fundraiser for several political campaigns outside Maine, as her overall finance director, as well as Jeff Beam, a former communications director for the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, as campaign spokesman.

Bellows’ fundraising total in the fourth quarter of 2013 is significantly lower than Collins’ 2008 challenger, former Congressman Tom Allen, raised during the same time period in 2007. According to FEC filings, Allen raised more than $800,000 in the final quarter of 2007 and as of January 31, 2008, had more than $2.5 million on hand. He raised nearly $4 million between January 1, 2007 and December 31, 2008. Collins trounced Allen in November 2008 with approximately 61 percent of the vote, despite a strong Democratic turnout that put Barack Obama in the White House.

Despite the odds, Bellows said her time on the campaign trail has shown her that some voters are growing weary of Collins.

“We have term limits in Maine [for state-level elected offices] because Maine values new leadership and fresh energy,” she said. “People are very concerned that Washington isn’t listening to our concerns about the economy, the Constitution and the environment.”

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.