WASHINGTON — A campaign urging Republican Sen. Susan Collins to vote against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has generated more than $1 million in pledges, money that would go to her opponent in 2020 if she decides to support the judge.
The senator and her Republican colleagues are decrying the effort in Maine as attempted bribery, as attention shifts from Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings to the question of how lawmakers will vote on his nomination.
The spotlight on Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski is particularly intense because they are viewed as the only two Republicans seen as potential "no" votes. With a 51-49 GOP majority, Kavanaugh's confirmation to the court is virtually assured if either senator votes yes.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, came to Collins' defense on Wednesday, tweeting through his office account that "every Democrat should be condemning these antics in Maine — attempting to bribe Senator Collins to vote against Judge Kavanaugh and threatening sexual violence against staffers if she votes for him is absolutely disgusting."
The latter point stems from allegations Collins made to The Wall Street Journal that someone had left a voicemail with one of her state offices in which "they actually threatened to rape one of my young female staffers." Her office also provided The Associated Press with other examples of calls and letters containing vulgar insults.
"Senator Collins will make up her mind based on the merits of the nomination. Threats or other attempts to bully her will not play a factor in her decision-making whatsoever," said Annie Clark, a spokeswoman for Collins.
In Maine, a trio of advocacy groups continued their fundraising efforts Wednesday with a running tally of pledges coming to about $1.1 million. Marie Follayttar, co-director of Mainers for Accountable Leadership, described her organization as a grassroots movement borne out of frustration with President Donald Trump's election and designed to give Maine residents a platform to engage elected officials. Members of the group have met with Collins over the past 18 months on issues such as protecting the state's young immigrants known as Dreamers.
The groups states on the fundraising page that Kavanaugh is committed to "ending health care for people with pre-existing conditions. He is committed to overturning Roe v. Wade." The groups then provide two scenarios:
— Collins votes no on Kavanaugh "and you will not be charged, and no money will go to fund her future opponent."
— Collins votes yes on Kavanaugh "and your pledge will go to her opponent's campaign, once that opponent has been identified."
Collins' spokeswoman said that amounts to a quid pro quo: "You vote the way we want and we will keep more than a million dollars away from your opponent," she said. "Vote against us and we give her the money. It is basically a bribe."
Follayttar described the effort as a grassroots mobilization made up of smaller-dollar pledges. She contrasted that with the nearly $2.8 million Collins' campaign received in her 2014 election from various political action committees. She called Collins' use of the term "bribery" a bogus legal threat.
"We won't let it stifle us. We will continue to participate in our democracy," she said.
Democrats and liberal advocacy groups contend that Kavanaugh's confirmation would cement a right-leaning court for a generation. The stakes were on display throughout the confirmation hearings last week, with about 70 people arrested on the hearing's first day and charged with disorderly conduct. The same shout-and-arrest pattern continued throughout the week.
Democrats accused Republicans of seeking to ram the confirmation through without a thorough vetting before the November midterm elections. The president during campaign stops in Montana and North Dakota ridiculed Democrats as "making fools out of themselves."
A vote on Kavanaugh's confirmation by the full Senate is expected by the end of the month, in time for the first day of the court's new term on Oct. 1.