Tarnishing Clean

Posted April 26, 2010, at 6:09 p.m.

With serious fraud allegations surrounding his application for Clean Election funding, Democrat John Richardson quit the governor’s race Monday. This cannot be the end of the story.

To ensure the integrity of Maine’s Clean Election program, which gives candidates at least $400,000 for the primary race if they qualify, the state’s attorney general must investigate this case. If she finds areas of the law that are easy to exploit or unclear, lawmakers should fix them next year. If she finds wrongdoing, it must be punished.

The Maine Ethics Commission last week denied Mr. Richardson’s application for Clean Election funding because of “substantial violations” of the Maine Clean Election Act, according to a 13-page letter sent to the candidate. Gubernatorial candidates must collect 3,250 $5 contributions from registered Maine voters to qualify for the public funding. Democrats Libby Mitchell and Pat McGowan have qualified for Clean Election funds, as has Republican Peter Mills.

In the Richardson case, many of the violations the commission cites are criminal violations of the law. So, while the Ethics Commission should continue to investigate how these violations occurred, the Attorney General’s Office must look into the criminal aspects of the case.

“The staff’s investigation did not reveal any indication that the candidate himself made false statements in documents submitted to the commission,” the letter said.

However, the candidate sets the tone of his or her campaign, just as a CEO sets the tone for a company.

As the Ethics Commission said in its letter to Mr. Richardson, “Establishing an effective campaign structure to ensure compliance is a reasonable standard [for] any candidate seeking public funding to become the chief executive officer of the State of Maine.”

Mr. Richardson is a former speaker of the House and economic development commissioner. For him to fail this basic test is outrageous.

According to the Ethics Commission, violations by the Richardson campaign include collecting signatures from voters without collecting the required $5 contributions; contributing the $5 or allowing others to contribute $5 on behalf of individual voters; and signing voters’ names to money orders.

In Fort Kent, according to the letter, 155 contributions were listed. Commission staff and a law enforcement officer were able to contact 66 of them; 28 said they did not make a contribution. “Some of the individuals state that the circulator offered to put in the $5 for the contribution,” according to the commission letter.

If this charge is true, someone from the campaign gave individuals $5 so they could contribute $5 toward Mr. Richardson’s campaign. Not only would this be a violation of the law, it is a violation of the spirit of the law, which required qualifying contributions to show that a candidate has a wide level of support in order to get public funds.

At a company in southern Maine, an employee was told that the company owners would pay the $5 contribution to support Mr. Richardson, the commission letter says. The employee signed the form but did not contribute his personal funds, the letter said.

The letter says that circulators also forged Maine voter names on money orders. In several instances, purported voter signatures on campaign materials were different from those on voter registration cards, according to the Ethics Commission.

These are violations on a scale not seen in Maine and deserve a full and thorough investigation by the state’s attorney general.

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