Panel ends long Piscataquis Dems dispute

Posted June 24, 2010, at 10:46 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The commission that oversees Maine’s campaign finance laws declined Thursday to get more heavily involved in a long-running dispute among current and former members of the Piscataquis County Democratic Committee.

Julius Erdo III of Willimantic had asked the Maine Ethics Commission to investigate whether the leadership within Piscataquis County’s Democratic Committee had failed to file proper campaign finance reports and engaged in possible fraud.

Among other allegations, Erdo said he personally contributed or loaned to the committee $1,750 between 2004 and 2006 but that the money was either reported incorrectly or not accounted for at all. Erdo said the committee leadership subsequently refused to reimburse him for expenses, leading to the end of his term as chair-man.

Erdo also has accused longtime committee members and officers Patsy Fortier, Sylvia Johnson and Sharon Jones of using the political funds as their own personal “piggybank.” The committee members have, in turn, accused Erdo of harassing them and fabricating allegations to settle a personal score against them for his removal as chairman.

On Thursday, the Ethics Commission voted unanimously not to proceed with a further investigation into the Piscataquis County Democratic Committee.

“I think we should close this out based on what we have here … otherwise it could go on forever,” Commission Chairman Walter McKee said.

A commission staff member had reviewed the committee’s receipts and expenditures between 2006 and 2009 and found a number of errors. Those errors included failing to report thousands of dollars in contributions and expenditures and reporting one 2009 contribution as an expenditure.

In an effort to encourage party committees to submit complete and accurate reports, commission staff had recommended that four of the Piscataquis County committee’s filings be considered late.

Such a finding could have subjected the committee to a $2,000 fine, which commission staff deemed “grossly inappropriate.” Instead, staff recommended the commission impose a fine of $200 — a 90 percent reduction.

Commissioners ultimately voted to reduce the fine even more, however, imposing a $100 penalty.

McKee said he believed they were obligated to impose some penalty for the violations that, while not involving large sums, were proportionately significant given the committee’s relatively small budget.

None of the current committee members spoke Thursday, although their attorney acknowledged that mistakes had been made in reporting both contributions and expenditures.

“I think it is important to send a message, but I also think a lot of the issues have been dealt with in the judicial system,” said Commissioner Margaret Matheson of Augusta.

Earlier this year, Erdo filed a three-count lawsuit against the committee for loans and contractual services he said he had provided to it with the committee’s verbal approval. While he was seeking to recover $8,260.62 from the committee, Superior Court Justice William Anderson ruled that he was entitled to $1,726.72 plus in-terest and costs for services and goods he provided to the committee.

BDN writer Diana Bowley contributed to this report.

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