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VERIFY: Are the Cumberland County district attorney race ads true?

The ads, funded by a national super PAC backed by billionaire George Soros, target the incumbent District Attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck, who is running for re-election.

CUMBERLAND COUNTY, MAINE, Maine — Cumberland County residents may have recently received a mailer in support of district attorney candidate Jackie Sartoris.

The mailers also make claims against incumbent Jonathan Sahrbeck, who is running for re-election.

But the ads, sent by mail and on TV, are not paid for by Sartoris. They are funded by an out-of-state super PAC, pumping millions into local elections nationwide for progressive candidates, funded primarily by billionaire George Soros. His funded PAC is called Democracy PAC II, which funds a smaller, local PAC called Maine Justice and Public Safety, which received $300,000 from Soros.

The claims targets Sahrbeck's record with four claims.

First, it states that Sahrbeck donated to the Republican Party.

A quick search on the Federal Elections Commission reveals he did donate to the Republican Party in 2008. 

Another claim states that Sahrbeck only became a Democrat to run for re-election.

The claim's footnote cites a Maine Beacon article from Dec. 1, 2021, but an email forwarded to NEWS CENTER Maine shows Maine Beacon's editor Lauren McCauley saying the claim on the ad is misleading.

The third claim made on the Soros-funded ad states that Sahrbeck prosecuted a sex trafficking victim to monitor her.

While objectively it is true that the defendant in the case was charged with prostitution, Sahrbeck said he filed the case himself and did not intend to jail the alleged victim.

"We actually filed the case meaning that we weren't seeking a conviction for that individual, and the case was dismissed," Sahrbeck said. 

Sahrbeck told the Press Herald that charging sex trafficking victims is sometimes the only way to track them.

The final claim in the ad states that Sahrbeck refused to collect data on racial disparities.

The citations reference two Press Herald articles, but neither explicitly state that Sahrbeck "refused" to collect the data.

According to a 2018 voter guide for local district attorney races by the ACLU of Maine, Sahrbeck said he would not commit to working to collect racial disparity data in Maine's justice system.

But two letters penned by Sahrbeck in 2020 and 2021 say he supports a statewide analysis of five years worth of racial disparity data.

The letters say the data will include the eight prosecutorial districts in Maine and come out later in 2022.

Meantime, incoming candidate Sartoris said that having out-of-state influence is weird, but welcomes the attention to the campaign she is delivering.

"My takeaway is this PAC did their homework and their research and apparently decided this was the more progressive campaign," Sartoris said. "Is it surprising and a little disconcerting to have all this activity from an outside PAC? Sure. I mean, it's definitely weird."

Sartoris said her mailers are only the size of a small postcard.

"If you have a glossy mailer, it is not from me," she said.

Sahrbeck said he wants Sartoris to condemn the PAC and said outside influence this large hurts local elections.

"We've never seen this type of money being spent on a district attorney's race," Sahrbeck said. "I think that can have a chilling effect for who might be wanting to run for elections in this state if we're going to have outside influence coming in."

Maine's state primary, which includes Cumberland County's district attorney race, takes place June 14. 

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