AUGUSTA, Maine — Supporters of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights — which will appear as Question 4 on the Nov. 3 ballot — on Monday asked for an investigation into whether staff of Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, and Speaker Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, improperly used their positions to oppose the ballot measure.
But Attorney General Janet Mills said there is not enough proof of any wrongdoing to justify such a probe.
“The policy of this office is to not initiate a so-called investigation unless and until there is a preliminary threshold determination that there was anything to investigate,” she said in an interview. Mills did assign a member of her staff to make phone calls and review the e-mails to see whether that threshold was reached and she said it was not.
At a State House news conference on Monday, David Crocker, chairman of TABOR NOW, released hundreds of e-mails of correspondence between Mitchell and Pingree staff members and opponents of the citizen-initiated measure that would limit government spending. He also released a letter to Mills asking for an investigation into a meeting with members of the state’s construction and transportation industries and Mitchell and Pingree in her State House office.
“Is it appropriate for the presiding officers to have this sort of meeting where in effect it appears that threats are made and promises given at the same time,” he asked reporters.
Crocker cited state law that prohibits the use of a state government computer to solicit contributions for a candidate, political action committee or political party. He released the names of those that attended the meeting and a list of contributions made to Citizens Unified for Maine’s Future, the campaign committee opposing passage of TABOR, which stands for the taxpayer bill of rights.
Tarren Bragdon, CEO of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, the group that drafted the measure, also attended the news conference and told reporters he believes it is clear state law was violated.
“You had a registered campaign fundraiser coordinating a fundraising activity with partisan staff in the State House,” he said.
But Mills said none of the actual activities raised in the letter are violations of state law. She said meetings on political issues go on all the time at the Capitol, and this appears to be just another political meeting.
“I think it is important to point out this letter arises in the heat of a political campaign,” she said.
Pingree said the charges are “baseless, factless and frivolous,” and are an insult to her. She said the hundreds of pages of e-mails show there has been no violation of law and the meeting was typical of many others she has had with interest groups on many different issues.
“We talked about TABOR and what implication it passing would have on this next legislative session,” she said. “I have had that discussion with others as well. There was nothing wrong about this meeting or what was said at the meeting.”
Mitchell said the allegations are outrageous and insulting. She said the meeting was similar to several she has had over the years with various groups on various issues. She has held several leadership posts in both the House and Senate over the years, serving as House speaker as well as her current office as president of the Senate.
“The campaign for TABOR must be very desperate to sling out allegations questioning my integrity and Hannah Pingree’s integrity without any basis,” Mitchell said. “There was absolutely no wrongdoing.”
Maria Fuentes, executive director of the Maine Better Transportation Association, attended the meeting cited by TABOR NOW. She said there was nothing improper about the meeting or what was discussed and said she was baffled at the allegations.
“I didn’t find this meeting to be unusual in any way,” she said. “There was no pay for play, there was no quid pro quo, there was none of that.”