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In a race in Maine that's rated a tossup and could help determine which party controls the U.S. Senate, Republican incumbent Susan Collins (left) is being challenged by Democrat Sara Gideon. (AP) In a race in Maine that's rated a tossup and could help determine which party controls the U.S. Senate, Republican incumbent Susan Collins (left) is being challenged by Democrat Sara Gideon. (AP)

In a race in Maine that's rated a tossup and could help determine which party controls the U.S. Senate, Republican incumbent Susan Collins (left) is being challenged by Democrat Sara Gideon. (AP)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher September 25, 2020

Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins lobs false ‘defund police’ attack on Sara Gideon

If Your Time is short

  • As a town council member, Gideon voted to consolidate police dispatch services with a neighboring community, saving the town money.

  • Gideon didn’t give town funds to the nonprofit for which she served as a board member. She joined in a town council vote to forgive part of a loan to the nonprofit, a move unrelated to the dispatch consolidation.

Some top Republicans who have alleged that top Democrats want to defund the police have fared poorly on our Truth-O-Meter.

We rated False President Donald Trump’s claim that Joe Biden wanted to defund the police. And an attack by U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., against her Democratic challenger, Mark Kelly, caught Pants on Fire.

Now comes a more targeted attack in another pivotal Nov. 3 race, the Senate contest in Maine pitting Republican Sen. Susan Collins against Democrat Sara Gideon. 

Collins alleges in an ad that Gideon "voted to defund" the police in the Maine town of Freeport "and gave the money to a nonprofit she helped run."

Both parts of this defund claim fail, too:

  • Collins cherry-picked a Gideon vote for consolidating Freeport’s police dispatch services with a neighboring town’s, resulting in savings to Freeport.

  • Gideon didn’t give money to the nonprofit for which she served as a board member. Unrelated to the dispatch issue, she joined in a town council vote to forgive part of a loan to the nonprofit.

A tossup race

Collins has been a senator since 1997. Gideon has served in Maine’s state House since 2013 and as its speaker since 2016. She served as a Freeport Town Council member from 2009 to 2013. 

Many news accounts say the race is one that could determine whether Republicans keep a majority in the Senate, where they now control 53 seats.

The Cook Political Report has rated the race a tossup. It is one of 18 pivotal House and Senate contests up for election on Nov. 3 that PolitiFact is tracking.

What is "defunding the police"?

Police departments generally allocate most of their budgets to salaries, and what’s left over is used for equipment, training and community-oriented programs.

In the movement to defund police, some activists want to eliminate police departments entirely, while others want to reexamine the functions of police departments and redirect some of their funding to other community services. But the Collins ad misused the term "defund" to describe a budget move that’s not related to that movement at all.

Featured Fact-check

A vote to save money on policing isn’t necessarily defunding the police. Gideon has stated — at a debate, in a clip used by the ad itself — that, like Biden, she does not support defunding the police.

Police funding

Gideon was part of a 5-2 majority on the Freeport Town Council that voted in May 2010 to fully consolidate police dispatch services with another town, Brunswick, saving an estimated $73,750 in Freeport’s 2011 budget

Brunswick was already handling the dispatch for Freeport’s 911 calls; the 2010 vote added non-emergency dispatch. The vote didn’t change the number of police officers on the streets.

Gideon’s campaign cited minutes showing Gideon voted for annual town budgets that raised police funding. The 2013 town budget provided $192,000 more in police funding — totaling the general police, special enforcement and police dispatch accounts — than the 2010 budget, which was in place when she took office. The point being: Freeport police budgets increased — not decreased — while Gideon was a member of the town council.

The nonprofit

To back the second part of the claim in the ad, Collins’ campaign charges that Gideon, "after taking funding from the police department," voted four months later to provide about $70,000 in aid to Freeport Community Services, a nonprofit for which she was a board member.

Gideon helped with projects but was not involved in the day-to-day operations, which were managed by an executive director, a Gideon campaign spokeswoman said.

Gideon, who noted at the meeting that she was on the board, joined with the majority of the town council in September 2010 in a 4-0 vote, with one abstention. The vote was to forgive part of a loan that had been given to Freeport Community Services. The meeting minutes indicate that in approving the vote, the town would forgive $65,000 in debt if the nonprofit raised $65,000.

The aid to the nonprofit was unrelated to the discussion of police budgets.

Our ruling

Sen. Collins says in an ad that Gideon "voted to defund" the police in Freeport, Maine, "and gave the money to a nonprofit she helped run."

Gideon voted to consolidate Freeport dispatch services with another town, saving money. But she actually voted for higher police budgets as a town council member. So the Collins ad misuses the term "defund" to describe moves that are unrelated to the "defund police" movement. 

The claim that Gideon gave the money to a nonprofit she helped run is even more spurious. Her vote to aid a nonprofit she served on the board of involved a forgiven loan and was unrelated to the police. The proposal passed the council 4-0.

We rate Collins’ statement False.

This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections FactChat #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Click here for more.

Our Sources

Facebook, Susan Collins ad, Sept. 14, 2020

Email, Susan Collins campaign spokesman Kevin Kelley, Sept. 23, 2020

Email, Sara Gideon campaign spokeswoman Maeve Coyle, Sept. 23, 2020

Twitter, Maine Public Radio reporter Steve Mistler tweets, Sept. 14, 2020

The Forecaster, "Freeport considers Brunswick for all emergency dispatching," Feb. 10, 2010 

FreeportMaine.com, 2011 town budget, accessed Sept. 23, 2020

FreeportMaine.com, 2013 town budget, accessed Sept. 23, 2020

Bangor Daily News, "Ad Watch: Susan Collins equates separate Sara Gideon votes from 2010 with defunding police," Sept. 18, 2020

Freeport Town Council, April 6, 2010 minutes, accessed Sept. 23, 2020

Freeport Town Council, Sept. 14, 2010 minutes, accessed Sept. 23, 2020

Susan Collins campaign, news release, Sept. 14, 2020

Freeport Town Council, minutes for 2011 budget vote, May 11, 2010

Freeport Town Council, minutes for 2012 budget vote, May 3, 2011

Freeport Town Council, minutes for 2013 budget vote, May 17, 2012

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Tom Kertscher

Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins lobs false ‘defund police’ attack on Sara Gideon

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