Baby bottles to Brandon gear: Republican PAC hauls in cash from small donors

Ever wanted to spend two hours baking pies with state Rep. Shelley Rudnicki (R-Fairfield)? How about the chance to own Rep. Laurel Libby’s (R-Auburn) used baseball cap from the 130th Legislature? 

Those are just two items among hundreds that were sold during an auction hosted by a grassroots Republican political action committee dedicated to turning the Maine Legislature red in 2022. 

The group is stockpiling cash at a decent clip, too.

Alex Titcomb, principal officer of The Dinner Table PAC, said the group has raised more than any “center-right” group in Maine. Campaign finance disclosures show the group has raised just shy of $80,000, and that’s before the $10,000 to $20,000 Titcomb expects the group will make from the auction.

“The Dinner Table is a member-based model for a PAC,” Titcomb said. “So the varied items in the auction represent the varied people that we have in the organization. We asked that people contribute themselves, their skills, their talents, whatever they have to offer to the movement of flipping our state.” 

The group’s name comes from a Ronald Reagan quote, which is listed at the top of the PAC’s donation page. “All great change in America begins at the dinner table,” it says. Most of the donations were small figures, according to campaign finance reports. 

Only two people had given more than $1,000, and the committee’s filings are littered with donations under $50. The Facebook auction — hosted on a page titled “Flip Maine Red Auction!” — is no different. There are some items with larger values, like a lip filler session or a trip to the chiropractor, but there are also many items with values of $10 or less, although most of the bids for small items had gone beyond their asking price. 

Republicans do small donations too

Grassroots fundraising is often talked about in reference to Democrats, and University of Maine political science professor Mark Brewer said that characterization is somewhat true but “often overblown.”

“Even if an innovation on how to raise money starts more on one side than the other, if it’s successful, the other side tries to copycat it about as quick as they can,” Brewer said.

Brewer said the group’s fundraising haul is a significant figure given the length of time before the election and that the money will be spent on legislative races in particular. 

“There are a lot of states where $100,000 would be a drop in the bucket, right?” he said. “And yes, things are getting more expensive, even here in Maine, and candidates are raising more money. But you can still do stuff with $100,000 in Maine, especially at the state legislative race level.”

On the Facebook page, there are many holiday-themed items, useful tools, foods, clothes and more. Heat system maintenance is on the list, along with Christmas ornaments and decorations, firewood and a metal Budweiser sign.

But there are some more obscure items, too: a one-hour “energy healing session,” and an hour of bagpipe playing for a funeral or wedding. 

There’s a plethora of tactical gear, gunsmith services and gift cards to local gun shops scattered throughout the Facebook page. 

Some of the auction’s items are innately political, too, like the “Let’s go Brandon” hoodie and a set of two MAGA hats. A newborn baby can begin to earn its GOP stripes by listening to a parent read “The ABC’s of Liberty,” while wearing a stars and stripes handkerchief, drinking from an American Flag emblazoned bottle and holding a stuffed Bald Eagle, all part of the “Patriot Baby Gift Box.” 

The group’s members on Monday numbered just below 4,000, half of which are newcomers, Titcomb said. The previous 2,000 members were already in the group from an auction that Libby hosted last year. 

Titcomb said the auction was planned to coincide with Christmas shopping and getting in the holiday spirit. 

On Monday, there were bids for just about every item listed on the page, big and small. Many gift cards being auctioned off were going for more than the value of the card.

Jim Melcher, political science professor at the University of Maine Farmington, said off-year elections typically favor the party not in the White House, even in state elections, so beginning to fundraise early is important. 

“I think it’s quite logical that a Republican oriented group is doing that kind of work,” he said. “And that’s really smart on their part.”

As for the array of items, Melcher said that’s typical for any community-based auction.

“If anything it’s just how similar they are to somebody raffling off something for the local ski club or something like that,” Melcher said. “They look a lot like those kinds of items. It does seem like a very kind of grassroots thing.”

While Titcomb compared the group’s fundraising efforts to other “center-right” groups, The Dinner Table’s members are not in the center. 

Libby, whose Facebook account posted most of the items, has been a proponent of anti-vaccination and anti-mask policies, and Rudnicki (who is auctioning her time via a baking lesson) was barred in May from inviting guests to the statehouse after bringing a spreader of COVID-19 conspiracies

The PAC does not yet have a list of candidates it intends to support in the 2022 elections, given the amount of time before primaries and election day, Titcomb said. 

If the group continues to raise at its current clip, Brewer said the PAC could have a significant impact on elections in the state. 

“That’s a meaningful amount of money, especially if they continue to try and work to increase that and they can build on the momentum they have,” he said.